Thursday, November 14, 2013

What’s in a marriage license

I get so many emails asking for more documents so here is a marriage license.  What can it tell us?  This is one from my own family that I recently entered.

Simmons, Woodrow and Susie Johnson marriage certificate 1936Forrest County, Mississippi, Marriage Book 19: 393, Simmons-Johnson, 1936; Circuit Court, Hattiesburg.

  • The groom was Woodrow W. Simmons.  He was white, age 21 and living at Route 4, Hattiesburg.  I know it is Hattiesburg because it says R-4 City.  This marriage license was issued in Forrest County and the county seat is Hattiesburg.  If he had lived elsewhere the clerk would not have written it this way.  What is interesting is that Route 4, Hattiesburg is actually the Oak Grove area of Lamar County.  If you didn’t know that you would make the false assumption that Woodrow lived in Forrest County.  Oak Grove is just across the line.  It is closer to go to Hattiesburg than it is to Purvis which is the county seat of Lamar County.  I am not sure that Woody was actually 21 years old.  All of the other records I have for him would of made him 22.  This is a conflict that I need to resolve so one of the first things I need to order is his birth certificate.  I am not eligible to get it but I am acquainted with his granddaughter who is eligible.
  • The bride was Miss Susie Johnson.  “Miss” indicates that this is her first marriage.  She was white, age 18 and living at Route 1, Baxterville which is in Lamar County. 
  • Woodrow’s parents are listed as J. E. Simmons and Mrs. Harriett Simmons, of Route 4, Hattiesburg.  This does not conflict with any other records.  J. E. Simmons is James Elexander Simmons and Mrs. Harriet Simmons would be the former Harriet Woodard.
  • Susie’s father is identified as Bob Johnson.  No mother is listed.  I was able to find a marriage record for Robert Johnson.  (Marion County, Mississippi, Marriage Book 2: 413, Johnson-Herring, 1901; Circuit Court, Columbia).  Lamar County was formed from Marion in 1904.  His wife was listed as Miss Sarah Herring.  I have not researched her yet.  I didn’t see any other marriages in Marion County that could have been Bob Johnson.  I am assuming that she died before Susie married and that is why she isn’t listed.  Bob is listed as living on Route 1, Baxterville so it is likely Susie was still living at home at the time of her marriage.
  • Woodrow and Susie both signed their own names but their handwriting isn’t the best.  A check of the 1940 census will tell me how far in school they went.
  • Their license was issued 03 Jul 1936.
  • There is an affidavit swearing Susie’s age.  This is dated 03 Apr 1936 [typo?].  What is really interesting about this is that her father is not the affiant but rather Haney Simmons is. Haney Simmons would be Smiley Haney Simmons (yes, Smiley is his real first name).  What I can’t figure out is why.  Smiley is actually Woodrow’s relative (first cousin).  Why would he be vouching for Susie?  I can’t answer this one yet.
  • Woodrow and Susie married on 04 Jul 1936, the day after the license was issued.  They were married by Chapp Lott (who didn’t sign the certificate).  This would be Rev. Nathan “Chap” Lott (not too many people in Lamar County that I don’t know).
  • The license/certificate was not filed until 28 Sep 1936.  The clerk was Len [?] Cox.  His name doesn’t mean anything to me.

Besides answering the basic questions of who married whom and when and where they got married, this marriage record also leads me to research in other directions.  I need to confirm Woodrow’s date of birth/age.  I will see about getting his granddaughter to order his birth certificate for me.  I also want to know about Susie’s mother.  Was she if fact already deceased when Susie got married.  What was Smiley’s connection to Susie?  That one really mystifies me. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Don't rely completely on the prefix "Miss". Many people lied (or were mistaken) about their ages, and about previous marriages. I've often wondered about the consequences when people lied (or simply omitted complications) on their marriage applications.

  2. Fair point. I would go so far as to say always consider alternate possibilities for every bit of evidence. Using this same marriage record, the names of the parents could be totally wrong either by innocent error or intentional error. You just never know. Keeping an open mind is important.