A Father’s Consent: The Consent Record of George Davis for Daughter, Nancy Davis, December 26, 1810

George Davis consent for Nancy DavisIf you’ve never seen an actual parental consent note from the early 19th century, now is your big chance. This one shows George Davis, father of Nancy Davis (1791-1861). informing the clerk of Harrison County, Kentucky, that his daughter has his permission to marry George Colvin.(1784-1863). [1] If the child was under-age, (under 21) they had to get parental consent which came in the form of a permission slip like this.  There are several reasons why these documents are important. Firstly,  they can clear up uncertainties. Often times, when one finds a marriage listing in an index, there is often no information about the original record, and sometimes the county where the marriage took place is wrong, or the date is wrong. Original records clear that up nicely. In this case, a twenty-six-year-old, George Colvin,  was  marrying a nineteen-year old girl. That wasn’t particular unusual, but without this records, we’d never know.

The note reads:

“Please to let Mr. George Colvin have licence to mary [sic] my Daughter Nancy Davis and with so doing you will much oblige your George Davis.”

William More,  clerk of  Harris County signed and sealed and recorded the note, and George Colvin’s name was also attached, as were those of witnesses who signed with a mark.

Note also, the date at the bottom: December 26, 1810 as well as the language in use: that syntax was somewhat standard  in these kinds of notes with oft-repeated legal phrases such as  “Please to let…to have license… to marry my …and you will much oblige….”  Curiously, here the clerk omitted the phrase, “your humble servant,” which one usually sees in consent forms only twenty years earlier, as in:, “and you will much oblige your humble servant,” . But this note is from 1810, and these folks were no longer under British rule, so here’s clear evidence of a shift in  language use as the idea of non-servitude under an aristocracy takes root.  Thus  the phrase in use becomes, “you will oblige your George Davis,” which sounds rather clunky, but it’s very telling, reflecting the language changes clerks were adopting.

Records from this period were always hand written and space was always at a premium as was ink and paper. Thus,  for these simple documents  you grabbed whatever was handy to scribble these notes on and dashed it off. Note there is no particular order to where  “Mr. William More[sic]”  the clerk of  Harrison County signed his name. It’s just there to make it official. He even seals it with his own little scribbly-mark. Also, if you look at the bond just above the note, notice the spelling and handwriting difference.

The actual registry listing for this marriage has not yet been located, but in all likelihood the couple married within a few days.  Nancy’s brother, Steven Davis, along with her fiancé, George Colvin,  paid the £50.00 to the clerk for the standard surety the next day, and that stage of the marital process was complete. All that remained was for the couple to take the un-signed licence to the minister who’d  perform the wedding ceremony, for the couple to sign the marriage registry, and for the minister to “return” the signed licence to the same clerk who’s issued the bond but who would now record the signed licence among his list of ministers “returns.” From this process we get the idea of civil records of marriage “bonds and returns” in older records.

Original records like these offer more than just genealogic data; they also offer a small window into the lives of those involved in their creation in a way a simple  index entries compiled years after the event never can.  Unfortunately, too few genealogists seek out these primary sources, preferring instead to use less reliable records: un-cited online indexes and family trees. The accuracy of their results, needless to say,  are rather predictable.


[1] George Davis digitized original consent,  December 26,  1810, Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954, http://www.familysearch.org.


About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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