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Consorting with…

One more institute to go this summer and The Legal Genealogist‘s schedule will start getting back to normal.

Whatever “normal” is these days.

In the meantime, another snippet of genealogy….

Snippet 8

This time a bit of definition, sparked by a spirited discussion on Facebook about the meaning of the word “consort” in the 1800s — as in “she was the consort of John Doe.”

Yeah, as you might expect, pretty much the majority view was to tsk-tsk, shake the head and note that — since she obviously wasn’t royalty living in the backwoods somewhere in America in the 1800s — she must have been shacking up with the dude without the benefit of clergy.1

That’s not to say people didn’t shack up without the benefit of clergy in the 1800s. Of course they did. They weren’t any better than we were back then, and because divorce was so hard to get in those days the shacked-up couple might have been engaging in bigamy as well.

But the description of a woman, or a man for that matter, as a consort in those days doesn’t carry with it any suggestion of an illicit relationship. Quite the contrary when you look at what the word meant in the 1800s.

The classic dictionary definition of the word in the mid-1800s was very simple: the word meant a “man or woman married. The man is the consort of his wife, the woman is the consort of her husband.”2

Time and place, folks.

Always remember time and place.

In that time, at that place, person A consorting with person B was perfectly legal.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Snippets 2021 v.8,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 19 Aug 2021).


  1. Kudos to the few who tried to get folks to focus on the time and place!!
  2. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed., 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Childs & Peterson, 1856), 1: 281, “consort.”
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