One of the first acts of self determination when Freedom came to those formerly enslaved was the right to marry, a person of their own choice. Many of these men and women had considered themselves already husband and wife, but their personal relationship meant nothing when they lived in enslavement. If a slaveholder chose to sell one from one's spouse this was done with no consideration of the parties involved. So even before the end of the Civil War, as Union soldiers moved into those communities, appeals were made to those emampments where many found freedom, and one of the first duties was to employ the chaplains and to perform marriages.
The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, often became the site where most of these marriage ceremonies were held. The records that remained recorded these marital union and these records are the very first records of African American marriages, even before the local courthouse welcomed black men and women. In the state of Arkansas, at the Little Rock Arkansas Freedman's Bureau, many such marriages were performed, and what follows is a list of the marriages performed. Some of the ceremonies were conducted a early as 1864, well before the war ended.
From a genealogical perspective, this data is priceless. While going through reel 18 of Arkansas Freedman's Bureau records of Pulaski County, I found several ledgers that reflected the marriages. Many of those whose marriages were recorded lived in Little Rock, but others lived in other communities such as Pine Bluff, Duvall's Bluff and even a few were recorded as residents of Ft. Smith, in the western part of the states.
This is the first half of the images of the marriages performed and recorded by the Little Rock Arkansas Field Office.
Source of documents:
National Archives Publication M1901 Roll 14,
Little Rock Pulaski County, Register of Marriages, 1864-1866
These pages are presented merely to provide a preliminary glance at these valuable records. There is so much more data that is recorded, included ages of bride and groom, and interestingly the complexion of the parties getting married. In addition to that, the complexion of the parents is also noted on these ledgers.
One will also note that some of the marriages recorded were those of men who were on active duty as soldiers in the US Colored Troops.
In other cases, some of the parties that were marrying had long been married, and were in the latter years still having their marriages recorded, and several of the parties were in advanced years.
Data on previous spouses was captured including those who had been separated. The most heart-breaking ones to see were those who were separated by the whim of the slaveholder, and simply sold away.
The list above represents the first half of the Little Rock marriages, recorded at the Field Office if Little Rock Arkansas, between 1864 and 1866. They are partial images of the marriage pages that were recorded. These are found digitized on the Internet Archive.