Researching Marriage Records and Certificates

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.

Illinois Marriage Records Indiana Marriage Records
Iowa Marriage Records Kansas Marriage Records
Michigan Marriage Records Minnesota Marriage Records
Nebraska Marriage Records North Dakota Marriage Records
Ohio Marriage Records South Dakota Marriage Records
Wisconsin Marriage Records  
Connecticut Marriage Records Delaware Marriage Records
District of Columbia Marriage Records Maine Marriage Records
Massachusetts Marriage Records New Hampshire Marriage Records
New Jersey Marriage Records New York Marriage Records
Pennsylvania Marriage Records Rhode Island Marriage Records
Vermont Marriage Records  
Alabama Marriage Records Arkansas Marriage Records
Florida Marriage Records Georgia Marriage Records
Kentucky Marriage Records Louisiana Marriage Records
Mississippi Marriage Records Missouri Marriage Records
North Carolina Marriage Records Oklahoma Marriage Records
South Carolina Marriage Records Tennessee Marriage Records
Texas Marriage Records Virginia Marriage Records
West Virginia Marriage Records  
American Samoa Marriage Records Guam Marriage Records
Northern Mariana Islands Marriage Records Puerto Rico Marriage Records
Virgin Islands Marriage Records  
Alaska Marriage Records Arizona Marriage Records
California Marriage Records Colorado Marriage Records
Hawaii Marriage Records Idaho Marriage Records
Montana Marriage Records Nevada Marriage Records
New Mexico Marriage Records Oregon Marriage Records
Utah Marriage Records Washington Marriage Records
Wyoming Marriage Records  
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