Thursday, September 26, 2013

Clark County Arkansas Co-Habitation & First Black Marriage Records Found 1865-1866

Register of Marriages from Arkadelphia Field Office 
of Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands

Recently, I was excited to find eight pages of the first African American marriages of Clark County Arkansas. And among those records, were several co-habitation records as well. Co-habitation records allowed formerly enslaved couples to have their marriages registered even if they had been together as husband and wife during the years that preceded their freedom from bondage. In some cases they were married with permission, and in other cases not. And sadly in some cases as was throughout the south, some marriages were never recognized, and a spouse was simply sold away, when it suited the whim of the slave holder.

In Clark County Arkansas, dozens of families finally had their marriages recognized and these newly freed people wasted little time in rushing to the Freedman's Bureau Field office where a record was made of their marriages. However, during that very first year of Freedom, 1865, several newly freed men and women wished to have their marriages recognized, thought they had already been married.
These were the co-habitation records.

With such records, one will find data beyond a mere listing of bride and groom, for these records contain data about their lives before freedom. It is interesting to study the heading of the co-habitation records. Like most records, name of bride and groom were recorded, and place of residence.

Names and Residence were Captured on Co-habitation Records

Of males, physical description, previous relationships, separation and children from previous relationships were recorded.
Data collected from males

Similar data was collected from women as they had their marriages recorded.
Data collected from females

If the parties had been living apart and children were being brought officially into this new household, that data was also captured. In addition an official ceremony was held, and the name of the officiating minister was also recorded.

 If there was a separation due to death, unfaithfulness or the saddest reason--being sold away due to the inhumanity of slavery, this information was also captured on these pages.

Separated by Being Sold

Exploring The Records
The number of pages was small, but because the legibility and clarity of the images was high they are reproduced here. Note that all records were found in Record Group 105.

Partial view of 1st page of Arkadelphia, Arkansas Co-habitation Records

Partial View of Arkadelphia Arkansas Co-habitation Records

By 1866, older couples had already registered their marriages and from that time forward, young African American couples that had wanted to marry were now free to do so, with no consent of a slave holder required any longer, and they too rushed to the Bureau to have their marriages recorded. These are their marriages.

Marriages are among the many critical vital records that we all seek. It was good to find these records because these marriages precede the records recorded on the local level and they will not be found in any Arkansas repository. 

All of these marriage and co-habitation records were recorded by the Freedman's Bureau and because the Bureau operated under direction of the US Army they are Federal records, and found in no state or county courthouse. Therefore finding these records may someday open news doors for Arkansas researchers of African American family history.

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