The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate

In Special Collections, we’re used to unusual things popping up. It’s the very nature of a special collection. Recently, we received a call from Mike Couch at the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority because he had some papers in his office that he thought would be best placed with us. Construction workers, planning to demolish a building at Central State, decided these papers might be important, so they decided to hand them off to Mike. It turns out those were Payton B. Cook’s papers. Rev. Cook’s name is familiar to newer residents of Milledgeville mostly because his name is on a building on Vinson Road. However, longtime residents will recall Rev. Cook as a pillar of the community, whose accomplishments were recognized by the Georgia General Assembly upon his death in 1998.

Rev. Cook was a clinical chaplain at Central State Hospital in the 1960s through the 1990s. He was an African-American who helped to integrate the hospital’s administration, and while that is certainly important, what I’ve learned about Rev. Cook through inventorying his papers is just how much he meant to Milledgeville and Baldwin County as a true public servant. He served on numerous boards for the hospital, the local community, and the state, and he traveled the southeast to encourage students studying to become clinical chaplains and preach in pulpits large and small (usually Baptist and Methodist). Business leaders wrote letters to him asking for advice, and occasionally, the area elected officials reached out to him as well. There were also notes from his young daughter, reminding him to run errands for her while she was at school.

Rev. Cook had a very busy schedule, and perhaps that explains what we ran across today while inventorying his collection — an original marriage license from Peach County, Georgia, from 1970. Rev. Cook was the officiant, and he had completely filled out the form, but it had never been mailed. I thought at first he had handwritten a copy, but the form in my hands clearly said “county original.” My next thought was that Rev. Cook had likely misplaced this copy, yet mailed a second one. I realized I had better call Peach County Probate Court to be certain.

Marriage License - Ignatius Sanders

I spoke to a lovely person named Alayna, who took the information I gave her and went to check the county records. When she returned, I could hear a nervous laughter in her voice. Peach County did have a record of the marriage, but not the record of the marriage. There were two notarized letters attesting to the marriage, but I was in possession of the actual record. Whoa.

Without further ado, we at Special Collections mailed Ignatius and Joyce Sanders’ marriage license to Peach County, so now (47 years later) they will have a certificate on file just like everyone else does. Imagine how much less of a headache even simple tasks will be for this couple!

Rev. Cook certainly meant to mail this certificate. He may have even convinced himself that he did. Here, however, is a case of the importance of saving papers of individuals like Rev. Cook outside of the normal realm of what one would expect. We could not have anticipated there would be an original marriage license hiding in these papers when we took possession of them, but if the astute construction workers had not thought to hand over what they’d found to Mike, this couple’s original marriage record would have been destroyed. Instead, it survives because of a team effort.


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