Marriage records are an extremely valuable resource for genealogists as it ties together two of your direct ancestors, and in most cases is the key to identifying the wife's maiden name, potentially unlocking a new branch in the family tree.
Marriage information is most commonly found in the United States in the form of Marriage Licenses, required for all marriages. These certificates are the most common marriage records and are typically available at the local or county offices. What makes this tricky is that marriage licenses are typically filed in the location of the wedding, not residence. So if your ancestors up and married in a remote location, their documents could be hard to find. The good news is that a marriage certificate is typically given to the bride and groom, so be sure to check the family paperwork.
Note that there are marriage licenses and marriage certificates. A marriage license is issued as permission for a marriage to take place. Once the marriage has taken place, the married couple is provided with a marriage certificate. The marriage certificate serves as proof of marriage.
Marriage certificates can frequently be non-existant for many reasons, for reasons ranging from errors and omissions to fires and disasters in the town offices. If a marriage license is lost, there are other locations where this information can be found. Check first in family records, such as pension applications, wills, bibles, naturalization papers, etc. Most of these documents contain specific marriage information. In early America, when people spent a lot of time on ships, marriages were frequently performed by ship's captains. Therefore, marriages would have been recorded in the ship's logs.
Census records are also a great source of information on marriages, as are cemetery records, newspapers, fraternal organizations, funeral records, voter registrations, etc.
Always be careful with any documents other than the official marriage license. When relying on unofficial documents and information provided by family members without verification, you should always keep the chance of error in the back of your mind.
Guidelines for Requesting Marriage Records
Following the following guidelines with each request will give you the best possible outcome.
Keep your letters short. Don't include lots of requests and do not include details of your family tree. Remember, there's a regular person on the other end of this request, probably working in a one or two person town clerk's office. They're busy, and the last thing they want to open a letter that's overwhelming. And be patient with your request.
Provide complete information on an individual and event for which you need documents. Include all names that may have been used, include nicknames, alternate spellings, etc. List dates and type of events as completely and accurately as possible. If you don't know the exact date, specify the span of several years.
Unless you already know the exact cost of a document, do not send a specific amount of money in cash or check. You may want to send a signed, blank check. If you do this, write under the space for the dollar amount something like
Not to exceed $20.00, or whatever amount is appropriate. If you're not comfortable doing that, give them a call. If they don't accept telephone calls, you can request a quote of cost in the first letter and then when you receive that, you can send a check for the exact amount.
Always provide a self addressed stamped envelope.
When you write for a marriage certificate include the following information:
- Date of Request
- Full name of groom
- Full name of bride
- Date of marriage
- City/County where the Marriage License was Issued
- Your relationship to these individuals
- The purpose for obtaining this information
If you have any questions, you can usually contact the state or local office directly. See the state detail page for contact information.
Start your search at the state level to discover what marriage information is available and with which government office, city, county, or state. Choose from the states below to begin your search.