No Imbeciles, Please

No Imbeciles, Please

by Kerry Scott on 4 February 2010


A few weeks ago, the Minnesota Association of County Officers unveiled its database of Minnesota marriages.  For genealogists, this sort of thing is a lot like Christmas morning.

I’m supposed to be cleaning up my old research, but I couldn’t resist the urge to plug in a few names.  A half hour later, I’d ordered 15 marriage certificates.  They’re $9 each.  Some women binge on shoes or purses…I binge on vital records.  Yep, I’m a weirdo.

A bunch of the marriage certificates came yesterday, including one for Mabel Ruden and Mark Seliger, who were married in Albert Lea, Minnesota in April 1918.  Mabel was one of the witnesses at the wedding of my great-grandparents, Severina Nelson and Arthur Scheiber (that’s them above; Mabel is the one on the right).  I’m researching her because I suspect she may be related to Severina.

Mark and Mabel’s marriage certificate was the only one that also came with a copy of the marriage license, as well as the application Mark filled out to get the license.  Check out the things he had to swear to, under oath, when completing the application

  • That I have no living wife.
  • That I have not been divorced within the six months last past.
  • That I am not epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded, nor inflicted with insanity.
  • That we are not nearer kin than second cousins.

The bride had to meet the same criteria, although there’s a footnote at the bottom.  It states that it’s okay for her to be “epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded or afflicted with insanity” as long as she’s over 45 years old.  I’m guessing the idea was that she wouldn’t get pregnant and pass her “afflictions” on if she were that old…whereas the groom could do so at any age.

Of course, it’s important for researchers to keep in mind the context of the time in which records are created…but it’s a little jarring to see some of this stuff.

Photo:  Wedding of Severina Elizabeth Nelson and Arthur Walter Scheiber, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 18 June 1913.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

ndslotnick February 4, 2010 at 2:53 pm

As the stepmom to a 21 year old young man with Down’s Syndrome, this strikes a chord with me. I want my son to lead a happy full life, which just might include the desire to marry. I listen to the conversations of my son’s high school classmates and hear them talk about dating, marriage, etc. While I know that their perceptions about marriage are sometimes different than others, I also know that they feel love as well as having a strong desire to be like everyone else. I also have my concerns about the possibilities of procreation – both because of my son’s (and others) lack of ability or in many cases, desire, to care for a child. I am sometimes close enough to the situation to see the direct impact of developmentally disabled adults having children, and it can be scary. I find it to be an incredible dilemna as the parent of a newly 21 year old. I don’t claim to know the answers, but there are many discussions on this around my family and friends. My son has two teammates on one of his Special Olympic teams who have Down’s Syndrome are married (to each other) though they live in the home of one of their parents. Sometime I will broach my concerns with the parents and ask them how they deal with things.


Kerry February 4, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I don’t know the answer either. It’s a tough question, for sure.

The epilepsy one caught my eye, because there are a couple of people on my husband’s side of the family who have epilepsy. One of them is a wife and mom. It never occurred to me that she wouldn’t have been allowed to get married (especially as recently as 1918).


Sabrina February 4, 2010 at 4:19 pm

There’s still “legal wording” out there that makes you raise an eyebrow. For instance, at least in Illinois, if you’re an unmarried woman and you buy a house, you’d be identified as Sally Jones, a spinster. Stuff like the above was around later than 1918, I think it was my parent’s license where they had to swear that neither of them was an idiot.


abdpbt February 6, 2010 at 10:39 am

It seems like “feeble minded” is kind of a loose definition to work with. It’s so interesting how things change. Today, I suppose there’s an implied oath that you are not the same gender as your intended spouse. But feeble mindedness is apparently A-OK.
.-= abdpbt´s last blog ..Hanger Tea =-.


Amy Boland February 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm

You can be the same gender of your intended spouse all you want as long as you are not the same sex. The law doesn’t distinguish the two. I get a little “ha-ha on YOU!” thrill every time a queer transperson gets married.
.-= Amy Boland´s last blog ..They Can’t All Be Champions =-.


mouse February 8, 2010 at 1:03 am

Amy, me too! It absolutely delights me.

For whatever it’s worth, I’m am afflicted with “insanity” (by 1918 definitions not modern) and I have chosen, for that reason amongst others, not to have kids. But hey that’s my choice and to each their own. And suddenly I feel like watching some old Life Goes On reruns.


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