I'm seeking to better understand the history of how marriage licenses came about, and specifically, the transition from cohabitation and public announcement of the marriage to requiring a literal certification of the marriage from a civil authority. I'm told that English common law allowed marriages to be certified and tracked by local parish vicars who did not communicate with one-another when checking to see if someone had already been married, and that this role was taken over by the state governments around the time of the formation of the United States. If this is true that seems to be a topic that would have a large amount of lore surrounding the adoption of such a change as a handover of marriage certification between "the first two estates" of society.

My interest was kindled by an actual historical legal case in the United States, where a woman named Ella Chase believed herself to be in a common law marriage but was informed by the courts that her husband was permitted to "remarry" without getting a divorce. For more information on her case I have provided the following:

The Story of Ella Chase

Goat on a Cow

  • You might read this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_license
    – user6726
    May 28, 2017 at 1:29
  • 2
    Don't forget that the Church of England is the state religion in that country, while the United States has no state religion. The common US situation where religious ministers are among those empowered to act on the state's behalf is a result. By contrast, in many places, marriages must be civil marriages, and the separation of church and state is greater in this regard than even in the US, so if you want to be married by a priest you need to have two marriages, one in a church and one at city hall.
    – phoog
    May 28, 2017 at 15:03
  • You say "allowed", as if that is no longer the case. Vicars still certify marriages without communicating with one another to see if someone had already been married. Oct 5, 2018 at 13:23
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    @Martin: The banns have to be called both in the parishes where the bride and the groom live, precisely in case one of them is married; and unless the vicar has a certificate to that effect, the wedding cannot take place. A little more cumbersome than checking a database, but it has served well for centuries. Jan 17, 2019 at 14:01


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