Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday Mailbox: A Banns Date Does Not a Marriage Make

The Ancestry Insider's Monday MailboxDear Ancestry Insider,

What is the difference between the third date of calling banns and a date of marriage? Nothing, according to the indexing projects at FamilySearch, the genealogy side of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

A few days ago, I downloaded a batch of marriage records to transcribe from the “UK, Cornwall-Pariah Registers, 1538-1900” project in FamilySearch Indexing. Upon looking at the register images, I immediately spotted that these were banns rather than marriage entries. The project expects the indexer to enter the third date of calling the banns as the date of marriage! Having transcribed many thousands of banns and marriages for parishes in Cornwall, I know that a number of these proposed marriages never actually took place at all—so how could FamilySearch allow this to happen?

I decided to email the support team at FamilySearch. The reply was not very helpful:

“…The completed index and links to digital images to this project will be freely accessible online to the general public when the collection is published.  Researchers will be able to pull up the image and see that the marriage date is actually the third banns date instead of the actual date of marriage.”

The inexperienced or those perhaps in a hurry to solve a problem may just take the marriage details as being exactly what FamilySearch indicates—a marriage—and not just the calling of banns for a proposed marriage. FamilySearch appears to be happy to accept incorrect and quite simply misleading indexing to appear on their website.

I’m interested in your views.


FamilySearch has made the decision that minor compromises in genealogical integrity allow it to publish a greater quantity of records and access to images offsets the decrease in integrity. By carefully making these compromises, the overall value delivered to the public is increased.

There is another ramification that FamilySearch may not have considered. FamilySearch provides hints in FamilySearch Family Tree to its historical records. When the record is attached, the user has the option of adding record information to the tree. The banns date is added to the tree as a marriage date. So while the FamilySearch Trees team is busy taking steps to improve the quality of data in Family Tree, the Records team is taking steps that degrade it.

---The Ancestry Insider

As is the usual practice, the Ancestry Insider edited Mark’s message before publication.


  1. Marriage-related events are an area where both indexing and the FS-FamilyTree deliver misleading or erroneous assertions rather than "value." Marriage Bonds are indexed as marriages. Licenses not attached to returns-of-marriage are indexed as marriages. A Town Clerk's certification that an intention was published is indexed as a marriage (no image available).

    The tree does not incorporate necessary details in its tagging system for Bonds, licenses, intentions, etc. One can create a separate custom event, and manually enter where the record is, but the system does not allow adding a source citation from the source box for these.

    I suspect this is all leftovers from the deceptive simplicity that plagued the creation of PAF and the GEDCOM formatting.

  2. Why don't they just re-title the index for what it is exactly....Marriage Banns...instead of the current title??? It's laziness and the wrong attitude for presenting historical data IMHO

  3. And we wonder how all those crazy things get added to our ancestors. With a lot of help from the companies who promote their web sites as the be-all and end-all for research.

  4. And what if the couple did not actually marry? Certainly that occurred due to changing their minds, to illness or to death. Accuracy is most important. I agree with MF, call it what it is, not what you hope it will become.

  5. I see this as a reason to stress to those new to Genealogy or the "all my genealogy is done" crowd, 3 things:
    1. Carefully check and read all the sources that are in your FamilySearch Family Tree or any other public tree.
    2. Read every document before you add it as a source and add notes to your FSFT.
    3. Maintain your own private tree in your personal software so that you have entered the information in correct places.

    1. I just want to concur with what Jan Hackett posted above. An index is nothing more than a stepping stone to an original record. The real answer is to teach people to keep going until they find or dismiss the possibility of finding a source document, because it will likely contain more information that does an index or even an abstract.

  6. It's back to the old Ancestral File when sources were not required. It's little wonder so many new genealogists don't take thorough analysis seriously. Haste makes waste. Look at newFamilySearch and the problems it caused.

  7. Reminds me of my old battle with the Social Security Death Index. The "last residence" is NOT necessarily the place of death, but it constantly appears as such.

  8. I just found a "California Affidavit for Marriage Licence" combined with "Application for Licence to Marry," in some so-called marriage records on Ancestry, with images of the actual two documents pasted together in the same book. These documents are used by at least 3 people as proof of marriage. The transcription dates are off by 2 days and one year.

    The couple did marry as other records show, but as of this day I don't have the actual marriage date. Bad transcribing makes things worse.

  9. Same with births - Baptism dates are usually sited as the birth date. Love to know how the ordinary man kept track of when his offspring were born (well now, let me think, it was just after the lamb in the field next door fell over the cliff, everyone remembers that. Ok, what day and month was that - well it was starting to get hot so it must have been spring). It was all so accurate back then.

  10. I found the same issue with "Missouri, County Marriage, Naturalization, and Court Records, 1800-1991" on FamilySearch. In many cases these are Marriage License Applications only and they are indexed as marriages and if there is a return with the license the indexed date of marriage is often incorrect as it appears the date of marriage used is the Filed date if there is a folio cover for the record. This just continues to add to my frustration with the lack of analysis and folks just collecting "records" and "names".


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