January 11, 2011

Interpreting Marriage Dispensations


When  doing genealogy research, we often hear how family relationships were  figured out by looking at marriage dispensations.  These dispensations  were very common in the Catholic Church so I thought it might be of some  help to blog about how dispensations work.

Since  cousins marrying one another raises some moral, as well as genetic  issues, the Catholic Church set up  a system to regulate such unions.  Official Church permission was required to marry a blood relative. This  permission was given in the form of granting dispensations for varying  degrees of consanguinity of blood relationship. No distinction was made  between half-siblings and those who shared both parents.
There are four basic degrees of consanguinity:

  • First degree:  siblings, who share the same parents


  • Second degree:  first cousins, who share the same grandparents


  • Third degree:  second cousins, who share the same great grandparents

  • Fourth degree:  third cousins, who share the same great, great grandparents
  • Therefore, if second cousins wished to marry one another, they would  need to be granted a dispensation for a third (or third to third - 3/3)  degree of consanguinity from the Church before the marriage could be  solemnized.

    Now if you happen to descend from the Acadians of southeastern New Brunswick,  dispensations were not always that simple. A couple could be third  cousins through their mothers, as well as their fathers, requiring a  dispensation for a double, fourth degree of consanguinity. A relationship could also be uneven whereas the groom's grandfather was  the brother of the bride's great grandfather requiring a dispensation  for a third to fourth degree of consanguinity, because they were second cousins, once removed.

    Dispensations were not limited to  blood relationships. There were also spiritual relationships. When a  person married, that person became a spiritual member of the new  spouse's family. A sister-in-law was, in a spiritual sense, a sister.  This applied to brothers, cousins, etc. If a man wished to marry his  late wife's first cousin, spiritually he would be marrying his own first  cousin. This would require a dispensation for a second degree of  affinity. Dispensations for affinity relationships were governed by the  same guidelines as blood relationships of consanguinity.

    For people with Acadian roots, dispensations play a major role in New Brunswick-Acadian genealogy. With  a lack of surviving, original records of the late eighteenth-century and a number of nineteenth-century marriage records in which the parents of the couple were not noted, dispensations are a valuable tool in the  confirmation of ancestry and relationships. Dispensations are used by  professional researchers in determining if indeed such and such ancestors were related to one another because of the dispensations being granted their children, etc.

    © All Rights Reserved
    Lucie's Legacy
    Lucie LeBlanc Consentino
    1998 - Present

    10 comments:

    Marian Pierre-Louis said...

    Lucie,

    What you are speaking of are dispensations in regards to the Catholic church, right? I am intrigued by the spiritual dispensations. As you know, in early America is was quite normal for a man to marry his sister-in-law etc when his wife died. That makes me think that the Protestants and the Catholics regard spiritual dispensations quite differently. Or perhaps it relates more to time periods, in that in early America there weren't always as many choices for a spouse available. I would love to learn more about the cultural mores regarding this topic.

    Marian Pierre-Louis said...

    Hey I just noticed the guidelines for posting a comment right above this comment box. Did you customize that or does ever blogger blog say that? It's quite good.

    Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

    Hi Marian,

    I customized..you can do the same.

    Lucie

    Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

    Hi again ;o) Thank you for your post.

    Spiritual marriages were indeed those between in-laws or godparents with a godchild.

    Among the Acadians it was very complex. I'll try to put another blog together to address that part of the dispensation.

    Best,

    Lucie

    Nolichucky Roots said...

    Great topic and overview, Lucie. Thank you. A question, however. How were dispensations recorded? In the parish registries or diocesan records? If I am ever able to get my hands on the Hungarian records for my father's family I'd be well advised to look for dispensations since they married cousins ALL the time.

    Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

    Thank you for your post.

    The dispensation was usually recorded in the marriage act entered by the priest in the marriage register.

    However, all dispensations had to be obtained from the Bishop or his delegate. A delegate would be the Bishop's Vicar General or the Chancellor of the diocese. Therefore the diocesan office would have records and paper work for all dispensations granted in a given diocese.

    Lucie

    Heather Rojo said...

    This would be like the dispensation to allow a Catholic to marry a protestant? I've noticed that these are all recorded on a person's original baptism, where ever that record is located it notes the other sacraments (marriage, death, and also dispensations) even if those events are also recorded in other parishes/dioceses/countries, etc. As a non-Catholic I find this fascinating and also very handy!

    Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

    Hi Heather... yes, this would include the dispensation need between a catholic and non-catholic marriage. Also if the non-catholic party wanted his/her minister to officiate with the priest; too if the marriage would not be taking place in the catholic church building.

    Lucie

    Heather Rojo said...

    Yes, I saw it on my husband's records. He's a catholic, but we were married in the 1st Congregational Church in Holden, Mass. by my minister, with his Jesuit friend (his high school principal from Puerto Rico) assisting. We needed approval from a Cardinal for that one! Lots of red tape!

    Lucie LeBlanc Consentino said...

    Hi Heather,

    The only reason it was the cardinal is because he was the head of the Archdiocese. He was first a Bishop the was chosen to be a cardinal by the pope. I should have said that whoever is the head of the diocese or archdiocese - that can be a Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal or someone the head would delegate.

    Lucie