There I was.  Minding my own business, entering some newly-obtained marriage records (thank you, fellow APGer Melissa Johnson) into my source list in RootsMagic.  The first item was a marriage certificate for Lily Frances Gallagher and Michael John Durkin dated December 31, 1905.  They were married at Sacred Heart Church in Camden, New Jersey.  Their parents are listed, the priest is listed, and the witnesses are listed.  Everything is relatively legible.  Nice.

Lillian Gallagher marriageOh look – she was able to get the return too!  Well, the bride’s name is now spelled “Lillie.”  It’s close enough that I can live with it, but otherwise it looks like all the information is the sa– … wait a minute!  The date on the return says they were married on May 9, 1905 by a Justice of the Peace, in front of two witnesses I’ve never heard of.

Lillian Gallagher marriage return

What gives?

So I did what any good genealogist would do … I turned to my genea-friends on Facebook and asked whether this sort of thing was normal.  One of the first questions was whether they were Catholic.  Why, yes they were.

Apparently, that was commonplace during that time (and even more recently) to get married by a Justice of the Peace and then get married – sometimes years later – in the church.

One theory was that there could have been a child born in between the two marriages.  I didn’t find one, but that doesn’t mean there was no pregnancy.  It just puzzles me that if there was no baby on the near horizon, why rush the wedding?  Why not just get married in the church in the first place?

Another theory included an elopement.  Maybe someone didn’t feel as strongly about that marriage as they could have.  Makes sense, I guess.  It would also explain the fact that the witnesses aren’t family members.

Still another theory was that the church didn’t recognize the first one, so they had to do it again.

It also was not uncommon for a couple to have a civil marriage, have a child, then be married by a priest so their child could be raised in the church, or have a Catholic burial, in the case of a stillbirth or an infant death.

While I don’t know the actual reason why there are two marriage records for this couple, at least I have some theories to test, which provide some places to look for answers.

It occurs to me that I probably should read one of these books I have about Catholic records.  I’m pretty sure there is some history in one of them.  I may also ask my cousin, who is basically an expert on all things Catholic (at least compared to me), and see what she knows.

It also occurs to me that maybe I should be looking for additional marriage records for ALL of my relatives.  And now I am completely overwhelmed by the fact that – with the exception of the current generations – I haven’t found anyone in my tree yet that isn’t Catholic.

Feel free to chime in with your own theories in the comments!



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Things that make you go “hmmm …” — 10 Comments

  1. In the Netherlands, being married sometimes entitled you to benefits, like higher pay while serving in the military.I know of Catholic people who waited a couple of years to get married so they could save money for a big wedding. The civil ceremony did not “count” in their eyes but dud bring in some extra money.

  2. Oh, now that’s an angle I hadn’t considered, Yvette. I’ll have to check to see if he was in the military – I don’t think he was (he is listed as a bricklayer on pretty much all the census records I have, and not shown as a veteran on the 1930 census), but it doesn’t hurt to look, right? They also could have done it to save money or get some other benefit at the time – I’ll have to look into that too. Thanks!

  3. Similar thing with one of my sisters. He was in military about to be sent overseas. They eloped to Okla at the end of June. Church wedding was in August, was in the planning stage in June. Turns out if they weren’t married 90 days before he was shipped out she couldn’t go with him. They made the 90 day mark and she got to go with him. Didn’t know about the elopement until they were divorced.
    This also explained several of their actions and why she wasn’t jumping up and down over wedding preparations in between the civil and church weddings.
    They may have also gone against family wishes and gotten married. Then the family came around and wanted the church wedding to ‘make it right’/

  4. I’ve found several French Catholic couples on my husband’s side of the family being married by a JP. In their case, I think it was because they were in a more sparsely populated area (rural western OH in the mid 19th century), and the priests traveled all over, so you may have to wait a fairly long time if you wanted a church wedding.

    • I hadn’t considered that either, Emily. While Camden, NJ isn’t exactly rural, I’m not sure if the priest was always there either. My money is still on a “secret” wedding preceding the church wedding. I just have to figure out why.

  5. I’ve known Catholic people who married non-Catholics and had two ceremonies, one in the Catholic church and another following their spouse’s preference, either in another church or with a JP.

  6. Pingback: Blanks Are Filled. Now, More Questions! | The Lost Scrapbooks

  7. Wasn’t the JP in Gloucester City and the church in Camden? Does one of them have a Gloucester connection? Otherwise, I’d assume elopement until proven otherwise.

    • I’ll consider that, Claire, but Gloucester City is only a few miles from Camden, so it could just be a matter of convenience. Both of them lived in Camden, and it could be that was the only JP available at the time. I’m going to do some deeper digging (when I have time) and see if I can find mentions of anymore children … that may answer the question about the JP … especially if there was a child born between May and December.

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