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German Marriage Customs

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Marriage Customs and Laws

Marriage laws were passed in the 18th and 19th Century with the purpose of limiting the population growth, especially targeting the lower classes. This actually led to more out-of-wedlock births and an increase in emigration.

Prospective couples not only needed to announce their intentions ahead of time, but were required to provide proof of income and own property. Some common requirements and customs included:

  • There were rituals for engagements, such as the bride's family being required to buy certain quantities of alcoholic beverages from the local tavern.
  • Parental permission was required for first marriages. If the parents were deceased, the county court gave permission.
  • Marriages normally took place in the bride's hometown.
  • Dispensations were required for those related by blood up to the fourth degree and for marrying outside of one's religious denomination.
  • The intent to marry was proclaimed 2-3 times in each person's hometown or parish of residence or birth. Dispensations could be obtained, for a price, if the couple already had a child or were planning to emigrate.
  • If either party was a serf tied to the land, the lord of the land had to give his permission for the serf to marry.
  • Divorces were usually granted by the court, and partners sometimes were denied the privilege to remarry for a number of years. Special dispensations could be obtained.
  • Soldiers could not marry until they were discharged, and after posting a large bond that would support survivors if he was killed. This led to many couples living together and bearing children before marriage.
  • Journeymen had to complete their training before receiving permission to marry. They often married girls in the town where they received their training.
  • A town council could deny permission to marry, and the whole process could be repeated several times.

The wedding contracts are a good indication of a person's social standing as they included information about everything that was brought into a marriage, both possessions and children from previous relationships. Also included was what should happen to any children should one of the spouses die. This could include direction as to the faith a child should be brought up in as well as how much money there was for their food and clothing. Marriage records may include proof of property ownership and income, copies of parental permission, birth/baptismal certificates, and military discharge papers. In some instances, the marriage permission files may include guardianship records for illegitimate and orphaned children giving the child's name, birth date, birth place, parents, guardian, and details concerning financial arrangements.


  • Huber, Leslie Albrecht. "Ancestors in the Records: Parish Records: Understanding Parish Birth Records, Understanding Your Ancestors, weblog, 2006, 2007, 2008 (http://www.understandingyourancestors.com/ar/parishBirth.aspx); citing
    • Sheehan, James J. German History, 1770-1866 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
    • Viazzo, Pier Paolo. "Mortality, Fertility, and Family.” In The History of the European Family: Family Life in Early Modern Times, 1500-1789. David I. Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli, editors. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), pgs. 157-187.
  • "German Genealogy; Marriage Customs, Laws and Records," Genealoger (http://www.genealoger.com/german/ger_marriage.htm)

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