My grandparents – Married or Not?

This article was printed on the front page of the June 14, 1973 edition of the Frederick Post, Montgomery County Edition:

By Martha Raver, Staff Writer

“Well, mother you’re married now,” Mrs. Eva, Burriss’ daughter told her last week.

After 43 years of life together, five children and 25 grandchildren, Mr. and Mrs. Horace Burriss of Evergreen Point (Frederick MD) were officially declared married only a few days ago.

Mr. & Mrs. Burriss eloped 43 years ago in November 1930 and were married by a Presbyterian minister in Anderson South Carolina. At least, they thought they were married.

When Mr. Burriss retired from a life of farming last year, the Social Security Administration told him they could not extend any of his benefits to Mrs. Burriss until he presented a marriage certificate.

The couple’s copy of their marriage certificate was destroyed in a fire in their attic years ago. Mrs. Burriss had never bothered to get another copy.

“I had never put it in a Frame. Raising five children, there were other things I needed more than a frame. SO I had it in a book in the attic” Mrs. Burriss said.

“I hated for it to burn but I wasn’t gonna worry about it because I knew I was married,” she said.

The Anderson County SC Courthouse wasn’t so sure. The only record on file was Mr. Burriss’ application for a license in 1930.

Rev Kirk Patrick who married the couple had apparently forgotten to file the actual certification. His wife, who stood as a witness at the wedding ceremony and the Reverend are both deceased.

“I guess he took his records with him,” Mrs. Burriss said.

“My husband wasn’t too laughable about it,” she said.

“People will get the idea we’ve never been married,” Mr. Burriss told his wife nervously.

“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “Our friends know we’ve been married.”

The Burrisses returned to the Frederick County Social Security office to ask them what they should do. There were no records anywhere.

“Well, why don’t you just go ahead and get married again,” a clerk told Mrs. Burriss.

The Burrisses began to get excited about the idea. A wedding seemed to be the cheapest way of settling the record. Friends in Montgomery County offered to give them a weeding with champagne and flowers.

“We were making a joke about it. My daughter said, “Mother, we’ll be your attendants and your grandchildren can be the honorary attendants.”

Mrs. Burriss marched into the Rockville Courthouse and announced, “I want to get married, but I have been married for 43 years.”

“We can’t give you a license. You’re already married,” the clerk told her.

“Well, prove it,” Mrs. Burriss said.

“We’ve got your word,” he replied.

Mrs. Burriss tried again in Frederick County and received the same answer. Person once married cannot be issued a license unless they have been divorced. The clerk at the courthouse asked one of the Frederick County judges for an opinion. The judged advised against marriage because of the Burriss’ five children and any legal inheritance rights, he warned.

“We thought about going to another county and getting a license secretly but our five children would be considered illegitimate,” Mrs. Burriss said.

“My children told me they didn’t care. We’ve got five children and one of them is 42 years old. But there’s no sense telling a lie,” She said.

The Burrisses considered applying for a common law marriage certificate but Maryland no longer acknowledges such contracts.

In desperation, the Burrisses went to David Aldridge, a Frederick lawyer. Aldridge and a South Carolina attorney decided to appeal to the Anderson County Court for a late filing of a marriage certificate.

“I think the court here could do the same thing. The court always has the power to order some corrections. But we had to do it in South Carolina because that’s where the marriage occurred,” Aldridge said.

Two friends were found who testified last month that the Burrisses had been married in 1930.

The South Carolina attorney informed the Burrisses a few days ago that it has been “established as a matter of record in said state that you were married to each other on November 29, 1930.”

The letter was accompanied by an honest to goodness Marriage Certificate dated November 29, 1930.

“I’d better Check down in Virginia to see if mines is in the Courthouse,” said Aldridge.