More than six decades ago, the Monotones asked a timeless romantic question with their doo-wop single (Who Wrote) The Book of Love?
The answer? Mary Skidmore.
For the better part of the past 30 years, Skidmore, a clerk in Columbia County's Probate Court office in Appling, has logged the names of Columbia County's marrying lovers in large, red, leather books.
"Mary's a love," Probate Judge Pat Hardaway said. "And Mary's a good one to keep the 'Book of Love' because she's just a lovely person."
The marriage records kept in secure vaults in the Appling courthouse date back as far as 1790, when the state Legislature established Columbia County. Until 1807, the records were merely marriage bonds, or applications to be married.
"That does not necessarily mean that they got married," Skidmore said. "They applied."
Because that book became tattered, the original records from 1790-1806 have been transcribed into a new book kept with the other archival books.
Beginning in 1807, marriage applications were recorded when a couple applied for the license, were married and the officiant who performed the ceremony signed the marriage certificate and returned it to the Probate office.
Henry Slaughter and Betsey T. Blackwell, who were married Aug. 13, 1806, are the first couple listed in the leather-bound marriage record.
Marriage licenses, like many other vital records, are stored in a computer system. But as they have been for more than two centuries, someone also writes the information in a record book.
As an unwritten rule, anyone who records marriages in the book must have neat handwriting. It seems nearly everyone, including Skidmore and former Probate Judge Kathryn Morris, who has written in the book, has beautiful script.
"It has got to be legible," Skidmore said, adding the book is an important record for future generations.
Skidmore said in her nearly three decades in the Probate office, she's seen all kinds of couples apply for marriage. Most end up getting married, but not all.
She's helped teen lovers make their union official, as well as more mature couples looking toward their second, third, fourth or even fifth marriages.
"The older ones, they are funny," Skidmore said.
Recently, a couple in their 80s visited the Appling office in search of a marriage license.
"They were in love, too," Skidmore said, adding she went to their car to have them sign the application. "They were sitting in the back seat holding hands and snuggling. They were so cute."
On the other hand, Betty Wasden, 67, was only a teen when her name was added into the book.
The Grovetown native married her husband, Wayne, in September 1959, and celebrated 50 years of marriage last year.
The secret to a long, happy marriage?
"Give and take," Wasden said.
She had no idea she was listed in the "book of love," but said she looks forward to many more years with her husband.
"A lot (more years)," Wasden said. "It seems like it's only been a few years. Time flies. It really does."
But time also marches on, and vital records, such as those stored in the red leather book in the Appling vault, are irreplaceable.
They offer crucial information for tracing family genealogy or completing family trees.
"A lot of people write up here to get copies of this stuff," Skidmore said. "It tells them a lot."
The Vital Records Division of Probate Court not only issues and records all marriage licenses, but is custodian of all birth and death records.
Before the Evans Justice Center and Courthouse Annex was dedicated in 2002, everyone applying for a marriage license had to do it through the Appling office. Even though many records are now stored in Evans, Hardaway said there are some that will remain in the concrete and steel vaults in Appling.
"Because we have those two really secure vaults, we left all the older, more valuable, records there," Hardaway said.
She's been through many courthouses throughout the state and is proud to say, "We have some of the best-kept records in this state."
Unlike many county seats, the Appling courthouse has not experienced a fire or flood, common destroyers of such vital records. The vaults contain books of marriage licenses, deaths, births and even some newspapers printed before the Civil War.
Though some have been transferred to microfilm and are stored digitally in computers, Hardaway said nothing can replace the original records.
"Not to me," she said. "I love books. I just would prefer to have a book any day than have a print-out from a computer."
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