Adding Witnesses to Marriage event

I am relatively new to RootsMagic (although I have been working on my family tree for 35 years) and wonder if anyone knows if there is a way to add Witnesses (and their relationship to the betrothed) to a Marriage. I have a lot of info taken from the original records which includes the names of witnesses, who were frequently family members, and I have found this useful in establishing which particular marriage is most likely the one I am looking for. It would be helpful to link witnesses names to other people in the tree to establish the family connection. It seems I can only add Witness info as a Note but maybe there is another way. Thanks.

Yes, you can share a marriage fact with other people as witnesses. For more on this check out:

Do watch the video. But let me try to add some insight about witnesses.

When the Witness feature was first introduced into RM, I had the devil of a time trying to figure out how it was supposed to work. My problem was that the whole Witness concept seemed very vague and amorphous and abstract and I simply couldn’t grasp how it was supposed to work. And indeed the wording of your question " … Witnesses (and their relationship to the betrothed) … " is illustrative of the dilemma because the way you framed the question was unbeknown to you not the way it really works. To make matters worse, I’m basically a math person and if there is anything I’m good at it’s abstraction. Despite that, I just couldn’t understand the abstraction of how RM’s Witnesses are supposed to work. Just like you, I couldn’t figure out how to enter the Witnesses to a marriage and to establish the relationships of the Witnesses to the betrothed. Essentially, I originally framed the question in exactly the same way you did.

For example, RM’s Marriage fact includes a built-in role called Witness. How on earth are you supposed to relate the Witness role to things like the Minister or the Flower Girl or the Best Man or the Groomsmen or anything like that? Well, my answer is that you are not supposed to relate the Witness role to things like the Minister or the Flower Girl or anything like that. That simply is not the way it works. Instead, you do the following.

Pretend that the Witness role is not even there. Or better yet, just delete the Witness role from the Marriage fact. In my opinion, RM would be much improved if the Witness role was not even there. Then create your own roles for the Marriage fact - things like Minister or Officiant, Flower Girl, Best Man, and surely many more. These are now concrete roles you can understand instead of being some amorphous Witness role that makes no sense. Then assign those roles to the appropriate people in your database. So the Minister role would be assigned to the actual Minister. The Flower Girl role would be assigned to the actual Flower Girl. Etc.

As another example, RM’s Birth fact comes built-in with a Doctor role for the doctor who attended the birth. You could also add a Midwife role for the midwife who attended the birth of the birth was attended by a midwife instead of a doctor.

Now we come to the sentences, which can also be confusing. For each role, you really need to consider two different sentences. One of the sentences you need to consider is the sentence for the principal or principals for the fact. For example, the principal for the Birth fact is the person who was born, not the doctor or midwife who attended the birth. The principals for the Marriage fact are the two people who were married to each other, not the minister or the best man or anybody like that.

Here are the default sentences for the Marriage fact and for the Birth fact.

[couple] <#Couple#was|were> married< [Date]>< [PlaceDetails]>< [Place]>.

[person] was born< [Date]>< [PlaceDetails]>< [Place]>.

Now suppose you wanted the flower girl to show up in the Marriage sentence and suppose that you wanted the midwife to show up in the Birth sentence. Here is one way you could do it.

[couple] <#Couple#was|were> married< [Date]>< [PlaceDetails]>< [Place]>.< The flower girl at the wedding was [Flowergirl.>

[person] was born< [Date]>< [PlaceDetails]>< [Place]>< The midwife who attended the birth was [Midwife]>.

Note well that <angle brackets> are used so that if no Flowergirl is defined then the Flowgirl part of the marriage sentence does not show up and similarly if no Midwife is defined then the Midwife part of the Birth sentence does not show up. In the case of the Marriage sentence, you could add additional text for each role you have defined.

But that’s only the sentence for the principal or principals to the original fact. You can also define a sentence for the Flowergirl or for the Midwife or for any other role. Let’s just do the Midwife. The sentence the the Midwife could be something like the following.

[thisperson] served as the midwife for the birth of [person]< [Date]>< [PlaceDetails]>< [Place]>

Having done so, suppose Jane Doe served as the midwife at the birth of Thomas Smith. A report for Jane Doe might show up as something like the following. I suppose it’s obvious at this point, but you would add a Birth fact for Jane and a Marriage fact for Jane to get this report and you would not add a Midwife fact to Jane to get this report. Instead, you would add Jane’s Midwife role to Thomas Smith’s Birth fact to get this report.

Jane Doe was born 12 May 1847. Jane Doe married William Anderson on 1 Jul 1865. Jane Doe served as the midwife for the birth of Thomas Smith on 21 Sep 1871.

A report for Thomas Smith might show up something like the following.

Thomas Smith was born 21 Sep 1871, The midwife who attended the birth was Jane Doe.

Notice that Jane Doe shows up with the [Midwife] role in Thomas Smith’s Birth sentence. But Jane Dow shows up with the [thisperson] role in her own Midwife sentence. This can be very confusing, but that’s the way it works.

When a role is defined, it can appear with the [Flowergirl] or [Midwife] or whatever role in the original fact sentence. It can also appear with the [thisperson] variable in the role sentence. But it doesn’t have to appear in both places unless you want it to do so.

For a midwife who delivered hundreds of babies, you might not want all of those hundreds of midwife roles to show up in her reports. For a minister who conducted hundreds of weddings, you might not want all of those hundreds of minister roles to show up in his timeline in reports. Or vice versa, you might want the roles to show up in the midwife’s timeline and the minister’s timeline, but not in the original Birth fact or Marriage fact. RM is very flexible about such things. If you don’t want something to show up, just leave that part of the sentence blank.


Thanks for that comprehensive reply Jerry. As I expected, it is way more complicated than I had hoped. I was hoping it would be possible to simply add a Witness “Field” to the Marriage Fact into which I could place a name, either new or picked from my Person list, or at least put in a Witness Name and an explanation of what relationship they have to the betrothed. Obviously much too simplistic. I have struggled to understand the whole concept of adding Fact types and have no idea how the syntax works. I am not a computer programmer but it seems to me that some skills in that department are necessary. Anyway, I much appreciate your response. I’ll have another go at studying the video, which I have already watched once. Perhaps the mud will clear a bit.

Thanks OleSeminole. I have studied the link you kindly gave me. Although it’s not exactly what I wanted to achieve, it may be sufficient, and possibly helpful. However I think adding the Witness info to a Shared fact buries it too far down to be useful. I was hoping to be able to put the witness’ names right there on the Marriage Fact so I could see instantly who witnessed the marriage and what relation they are of the betrothed, as a way of “collecting” people into related family groups, as a way of sorting in my own mind who may, or may not be related to someone else.

I think one has to be careful here as to what is meant by the term Witness to a marriage. In Jerry’s comprehensive post he refers to the Minister or the Flower Girl or the Best Man or the Groomsmen etc. Whilst in the sense that these people attended the event they may in a RM Fact sense be witnesses to the event. However in UK and probably other jurisdictions witnessing a marriage is a legal process and such person is a signatory to the event and their name appears on the Register of Marriages entry “in the presence of:”. If you asked me who were the Witnesses at my wedding I would name just two people and they wouldn’t be the Minister or the bridesmaids.
Example of signatories:

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In the Edit Person window for either spouse with the Marriage event, you are maybe one click away from seeing the names of the sharers of that fact. That won’t tell you their relationships with anybody. You could go through many steps to compile the information into the Note for the event and it would be one click away.

I very much agree with the concern that the word “witness” has specific legal meaning when it comes to marriages. It is not only in the UK where there are typically two legal witnesses who are signatories to the marriage event. My experience is that it is very much the same in the USA. The same usage applies in numerous other legal situations - witnesses to a will, witnesses to a deed, witness to a power of attorney, etc.

I suspect that’s another reason that I was originally so flummoxed by the use of the word “witness” in the RM fact sense. But I’m not sure it’s just RM that uses the word witness in this sense. For example, I’m pretty sure that TMG software for genealogy used the word “witness” in the same sense. I don’t know, but there may be other genealogy software that also uses the term “witness” in the same somewhat extra-legal sense.

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@Rich_Tuffin If you don’t want to use the SHARED FACT OPTION, I think there is another way to record the info in the Marriage Fact and it is NOT hard to do ( as I only learned how to customize Facts and Shared Facts a month ago)…

All that is required is to edit the marriage fact by putting a check mark in USE DESCRIPTION FIELD then edit the Principal Marriage sentence to add description…
The original sentence for marriage says

[couple] <#Couple#was|were> married< [Date]>< [PlaceDetails]>< [Place]>.

what you are going to change it to is

[couple] <#Couple#was|were> married< [Date]>< [PlaceDetails]>< [Place]>. < [desc]>

One you edit the marriage fact-- then when you add a marriage, UNDER DESCRIPTION on the left side, you can put something like

Sharon Murray -her cousin and Thomas Acorn-his brother were the witnesses.

Your fact sentence will now read
Mel Acorn and Yoyo Doppler were married in 1820 at St Mary’s in London England.
Sharon Murray -her cousin and Thomas Acorn-his brother were the witnesses.

And once you set up the Marriage Fact, you can go back and edit any previous marriage you need to…

The good thing abt doing it this way is that if you don’t put anything in DESCRIPTION, then only the marriage info shows up…

Now some MIGHT caution that this is a customized fact and MAY NOT transfer --I don’t do TREE SHARE on Ancestry BUT did upload a gedcom of my test database to Ancestry and it transferred just fine

Need any help with this, just post a note here or message me and I will get back to you

Hi Nancy

Thank you so much for your message. I think the fix you have suggested will do exacly what I want. I have made the alteration to the Marriage Fact as you suggest.

Thanks again for this very useful tip.

Richard Tuffin

I have no quibble with that approach and I do it a great deal myself. But be aware that you can accomplish the same thing by placing the “Sharon Murray -her cousin and Thomas Acorn-his brother were the witnesses.” text in the note field for the Marriage fact without having to use the Description field or the [Desc] variable at all.

In a certain sense, the Description field is a short note and the Note field is a long note. But I’m never totally clear whether it’s better to use the Description field or the Note field or both. Do be aware that there is no [Note] variable and the note data is always printed unless you turn off notes for an entire report. On the other hand, there is a [Desc] variable. To use it, you have to enable the Description field for the fact and also you have to include the [Desc] variable in the sentence.

Your comments about Ancestry are interesting. Ancestry does a terrible job of storing RM’s Note field. I hadn’t considered the possibility that Ancestry might do a much better job of storing RM’s Description field than of storing RM’s Note field. But do be aware that RM’s Description field is limited to about 100 characters whereas RM’s Note field can store essentially an unlimited number of characters.

Thanks Jerry --appreciate it— I figured someone like you would be able to explain the drawbacks of doing it this way…

As for Ancestry, does anyone actually upload their notes? I don’t and I’ve never seen a file that had notes and I’ve looked at a lot of files…

Since you altered the marriage fact, you MIGHT reconsider using the Shared Fact with the witnesses as it shares all the info…

In my case where I have a lot of new family lines from the late 1700s / early 1800s in England where I know who the witnesses were for marriages etc BUT can’t find any identifiable info on the witnesses, this would at least let me see if someone was a witness to more than 1 person or line–in my German lines that were in the United States early on, I have Baptismal records for one family that have the same godparents for several of the kids-- again can’t find a lot of identifiable info for those godparents BUT this way I have them recorded in case I run across something else…
just a thought

Hi Nancy. Yes I discovered that altering the Marriage fact shares all the info. Will probably have to use the Shared Fact unless the RM people can get around to including a Witness field after the Date and Place fields, in which Witness’ namesccould be picked from the People list or typed in as a new name. In fact it would be useful if People could be classified in some way, maybe as “People in my tree” and “Others”. Maybe one day…

Kind regards
Richard Tuffin

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This discussion has made my head spin. I still do not understand how to add a plain generic witness to an event, such as a marriage, death, burial, etc. where the only role performed was that the witnesses were physically present.


Have you looked at

Play around with it on a test database and compare to other approaches such as

It’s just like any other role for the Marriage fact such as Flower Girl or Best Man. When you are sharing a fact in RM you are really sharing a role. Part of the sharing dialog is to choose which role to use. So choose the Witness role.

The Marriage fact does not come built-in with the Flower Girl or Best Man role. So you have to add the roles to the Marriage fact before you can use the roles. You add roles via the Fact List. But the Marriage fact comes built in with the Witness role. You don’t have to add the Witness role. You just use the Witness role that’s already there.

Some RM facts come with the Witness role built-in. That includes Birth, Marriage, Death, and Burial. And maybe it’s really all RM built-in facts that come with the Witness role built-in. I haven’t checked them all. But if you add your own fact types, they will not come built-in with the Witness role. You will need to add the Witness role as a part of the process of adding the fact.

Here are my Roles for Marriage …


I have something similar for Census.