by Gail Rich Nestor, Smyrna, GA on May 13, 2006
The clerk’s office of the Decatur County Probate Court is located in the back of the county courthouse at the corner of Water and West Streets in Bainbridge, Georgia. This office is the central repository for marriage records in Decatur County from the formation of the county in 1823 to the present day. The earliest marriage record book, Book AA, contains information on marriages from 1823 to April 1837. This book mysteriously vanished in 2003 from the back room in which it was stored. Fortunately, researchers can at least view the microfilmed copy of this book at the Georgia Archives in Morrow, Georgia. In addition, an index of all Decatur County marriages through 1945 is available at http://www.rootsweb.com/~gadecatu/Marriage/surindex.html.
The next sequential marriage record book, Book A, is present at the county courthouse. The book contains a handwritten transcription of each marriage license and the corresponding marriage return certification from May 1837 to January 1869. In this book, each record only includes the names of the two marrying parties, the date the license was issued, the date of the marriage, and the name and title of the officiating party. One example from this book is the marriage of William T. Burns and Elizabeth Rawls. The marriage record reads as follows:
To any ordained Minis
ter of the Gospel, Judge, Justice of the Inf
erior Court, or justice of the Peace,
You are hereby authorised to join William
T Burns and Elizabeth Rawls in the holy
bonds of Matrimony according to the Constitution
and Laws of this State and for so doing this
shall be your sufficient License
Given under my hand & seal this 29th day of
C M Amoss C.C.O.
I do certify that William T Burns and
Elizabeth Rawls were duly joined in Matri
Mony be [sic] me this 4th day of May 1837
Samuel Cooper J. P.
For more than a century (January 1869 through December 1970), marriage licenses and certifications of marriage returns were recorded in separate books for “white marriages” and “colored marriages.” Colored marriages included anyone who did not appear to be white upon visual inspection. The record forms in every book were pre-printed, three-to-a-page, but the relevant information was entered by hand. The information for each marriage entry, as in the first available book, includes the names of the marriage applicants, the date of the license, the date of the marriage, the name and title of the officiating party, and the date the marriage was recorded. Beginning in 1971, marriages of all races were listed and filed together.
Starting in the 1930s, the relevant information was typed into the forms in the marriage books. The same information was recorded as before with one addition, the age of each of the applicants was noted. Also starting in the 1930s, the original marriage license applications have been retained in most cases. However, these applications are not generally available to the public. They are only provided when they can be located and when a certified copy of the marriage record is requested. These applications are filed separately from the record books. A search for one requested record, that of James Edward Partee and Olive Womack Rich who married 21 September 1948, turned up a marriage return in the marriage record books, but not an associated original application. However, the next sequential marriage record, that of Robert W. Hamilton and Laura Ellis, was listed on the same page and was checked. It did have a corresponding application. The applications are completed by the marriage applicants and are signed by each of them. Fifteen questions are asked, including their birth dates, information on previous marriages, and the names, residences, and nationalities of the applicants' parents. Each certified copy of a marriage record and accompanying application, when available, can be obtained for $5.00.
The information contained in the marriage record books, starting in 1971, includes all the information from before, plus the location of the marriage, the address of the officiant, the name of the court recorder (pre-printed as “Ordinary”), and the book and page number of the record. Additionally, upon application, the parties are asked if either or both has been married before. Those with prior marriages must bring either the final divorce decree with the court’s stamp file on it or a copy of the death certificate of their spouse. Each applicant’s social security number is requested as well. In the late 1990s, complaints were made about showing the age at marriage in the marriage record books. Consequently, the books covering the most recent ten years do not have this information.
To aid the researcher when the date of the marriage is unknown, four books comprise a general index to marriages starting in 1824 and going through 1940. Two of these books are indexed by male (A-L and M-Z) and two are indexed by female (A-L and M-Z). These index books provide the names of the parties, the date of marriage, and the relevant book and page number where the recorded marriage information can be found. The courthouse is currently working on entering a computerized index for all marriage records after 1940.
Access to the marriage record books only requires a signature on the list posted on the door to the record room. Photocopies can be made for $0.25 per page and digital cameras are allowed. The staff members are friendly and very helpful.
 William T. Burns and Elizabeth Rawls, recorded entry of marriage license and certification, Marriage Book A, page 1, [second entry], Decatur County Probate Court, Clerk's Office, Bainbridge, Georgia.
 E. A. Rich and Miss Bennie Lou Parker, recorded entry of marriage license and certification, Marriage Book H, page 582, [first entry], Decatur County Probate Court, Clerk's Office, Bainbridge, Georgia.
 James Edward Partee and Olive Womack Rich recorded entry of marriage license and certification, Marriage Book M, page 188, Decatur County Probate Court, Clerk's Office, Bainbridge, Georgia.
 Robert W. Hamilton and Laura Ellis, original application for a marriage license and recorded entry of marriage license and certification, Marriage Book M, page 188, Decatur County Probate Court, Clerk's Office, Bainbridge, Georgia.
 Charles Lynwood Maxwell and Martha Louise Moore, recorded entry of marriage license and certification, Marriage Book 4, page 1, [first entry], Decatur County Probate Court, Clerk's Office, Bainbridge, Georgia.