Entering marriage banns into my database – one fact or three?


Most genealogy programs support Marriage Banns facts. In GEDCOM it is the MARB tag, associated with a date and a place.

Banns were a:

Proclamation or public notice given in church of an intended marriage, in order that those who know of any impediment thereto may have opportunity of lodging objections.

In England, banns were usually published on three consecutive Sundays. Do you enter three identically sourced facts with just a different day, or do you just create one fact for the event?

Neither way is ideal. In the first method, it seems very redundant and not particularly useful to have three nearly identical facts. In the second method when using only one fact, which date of the three do you decide to enter?

What are the best practices for handling marriage banns events in genealogy databases?

Harry Vervet

Posted 2015-12-11T23:56:02.807

Reputation: 17 763



I would enter this as one fact. I would use the date form: FROM date1 TO date2 and put the individual dates and description in the notes.

My reasoning is that I would want to keep all the info and sources about these very related events together to make analysis easier.

This also avoids repeating some of the same information several times.


Posted 2015-12-11T23:56:02.807

Reputation: 16 148


I think the best practice will be to enter three Marriage Banns events, one for each date on which the Marriage Banns were read.

However, to be practical, and especially if I were short on time and/or energy then I might just create an event for the first reading of Marriage Banns, with its date, and include in the description the three dates on which they were read. I would plan to go back and expand these into three events at some point in the future.

I see splitting out of Marriage Banns dates as being useful when I am trying to review the life of an ancestor in detail, because the story line functionality of Ancestry.com can then insert display of events from another person like "Death of Mother" between Marriage Banns events.

Including a date range for Marriage Banns does not seem to be encouraged by the GUI of Ancestry.com where I store my tree. If it were then that would be my choice for abbreviated recording of the three events.

I choose the first reading of the Marriage Banns as the single date to record when not recording all three readings because that seems like the point where the congregation is first notified of the impending marriage, and the Marriage event itself can indicate that readings of Marriage Banns had completed.


Posted 2015-12-11T23:56:02.807

Reputation: 10 741

2It is just semantics but there isn't really a "marriage bann" - it is the plural form that refers to the event that is the proclamation of marriage. Kind of like trousers or scissors, you don't have a trouser or scissor. I've just made a couple minor edits to take that into account. – Harry Vervet – 2015-12-12T14:13:04.877

Downvoted because recording the first date and no others would imply to me that the process was never completed. – Jan Murphy – 2015-12-12T19:18:30.060

@JanMurphy I would agree with that if I were not always recording the three dates in the description. – PolyGeo – 2015-12-12T19:32:46.077

Deleted my previous comment because I turned it into an answer. – Jan Murphy – 2015-12-12T19:55:53.107

Ancestry doesn't understand the "from date1 to date2" construct and gives you a message if you want to enter it. But it then asks "Are you sure?" and gives you the option: "Yes, use this". Really, they have to accept it and likely do, since they allow GEDCOM import and this construct is valid in GEDCOM. – lkessler – 2015-12-12T20:34:26.983

Thanks @lkessler - I will give that a try - I know I have seen that message but am perhaps not using it to my advantage. I'm about to add what I see as an advantage of splitting dates on Marriage Banns to my answer. – PolyGeo – 2015-12-12T20:40:02.157


This case is a good illustration of how our genealogy software doesn't serve us well. We focus on entering information into our software about people, when in actuality, the tasks we perform are searching for records about people, analyzing the information in the records, and recording what we have found.

If you have a Church of England parish register, generally you have an entry which describes a three-step process of the banns having been read over three subsequent weeks. I don't see any reason to break this out into three separate facts in a database. My choice would be the same as this answer, to use the date range to put the first and third dates, and enter what the source says in notes.

If you choose instead to enter a single date as in this answer, I would choose the third week because this is when the three-step process was completed. The third and final date is, by nature, closer in time to the record creation date.

Note that for Scotland, the page at CPR Banns & Marriages says:

Forthcoming marriages were supposed to be proclaimed on three successive Sundays, however, in practice, all three proclamations could be made on the same day on payment of a fee.

If you use a date range for the English parish registers which include three dates, and a single date for the marriages from Scotland where the actual event was only one day, as described above, you can see at a glance that the event which took place in Scotland is of a different nature.

I would only use three separate events if my sources were separate -- if I had entries about the reading of the banns that came from church minute books or a person's diary, where an individual reading was recorded on one particular Sunday.

Whichever method you choose -- especially if you choose to collapse all these different types of banns into a single recording method because it makes for a 'cleaner' display of the information in your software -- be consistent, and record your reasoning for that choice in your research notes.

Jan Murphy

Posted 2015-12-11T23:56:02.807

Reputation: 22 994

Playing Devil's Advocate, if the only evidence you had for a person's existence was a single entry in a Family Bible stating when they were born and died, would you record a single life span event against the death date? I guess I see the original question as one about granularity of recording. – PolyGeo – 2015-12-12T20:25:17.223

Would you record only the birth date and note the death date in notes? If we have a MI with a death date and the age of the person in days, months, and years, how do we record that? We enter a death date. And then, if we have no other record, we might enter a birth event and mark it as having been calculated from the age given on the MI. – Jan Murphy – 2015-12-12T20:37:23.580

I'm happy to create two events from the one source. Often the birth date I record is something like "About 1740" if all I have to base it on is "buried 1 Mar 1806, aged 66" with the latter added as a note. – PolyGeo – 2015-12-12T20:53:16.990

1I don't think our software is that bad. Generally the basic unit is a fact which could be applied to a person, a family, a place, a source, or just about anything. The real problem is defining the extent of what one fact is. Obviously birth and death are different facts, but this question is a good one because it makes you think about whether a marriage bann is one fact or multiple facts. – lkessler – 2015-12-13T02:44:35.353

Reading the banns consists of three real-world events, but they are bound as a set, in the way that other multi-stages processes such as a US Naturalization are not. You can submit your Declaration of Intent in one court and your Petition for Naturalization in two completely different courts in different locations, and while they must be at least 2 years apart (not counting the exceptions where Declarations weren't required) they can be much more than 2 years apart. By contrast, reading the banns takes place at a single place on three consecutive Sundays. – Jan Murphy – 2015-12-13T03:59:46.103

Banns can be read in two different parishes, but you can't substitute a reading in one parish for a missing reading in another. They are a set, something which @PolyGeo is not taking into account. – Jan Murphy – 2015-12-13T04:00:28.333

@JanMurphy My feeling (without an example) is that if something untoward happened to a church/congregation (flood, storm, death of rector, etc) during the span of three Sundays ear marked for the reading of particular Marriage Banns then it could cause them to be more widely spaced, which is why I think treating each reading as a separate event rather than always treating them as a set is valid, and may be preferred. Also, if an objection to the marriage is made and sustained, the set could be truncated. – PolyGeo – 2015-12-13T04:30:52.413