Love and Marriage Records

Relatively Speaking

Valentine's Day seems like a great time to talk about marriage records. These are valuable to family genealogists' because they may be one of the few places where a woman's maiden name is recorded. Marriages are most likely to occur in the town or county where the bride lived, giving clues to other family origins.

A good marriage license will give you the names of the bride and groom, their ages and places of residence. They can also include the occupations of the couple, the full name of witnesses and their relationships. If either the bride or groom were younger than the legal age you may find a consent-to-marry signed by a parent or guardian. If you are fortunate enough to have German ancestors, you will find that German marriage records often include the names of the parents of both the bride and groom and their grandparents.

A couple may have married in a neighboring county if the parents opposed the marriage and they eloped. Understand, also, that not all marriages were recorded. On the frontier or in isolated communities there may have been no one to marry a couple, and so vows were taken and sometimes solemnized when an itinerant preacher came through the area. He would then make a note in his records, which may or may not ever reach an official church or civil registration office.

Some good places to look for marriage records:

Family Bibles were a place where families recorded not only marriages, but also births and deaths of family members.

Journals, letters and scrapbooks where pictures were kept, may also document an event. One of my great-great-grandfathers was married in 1848 in Nebraska on the Pioneer trail west. His marriage record is only found in his journal.

Local newspapers often have list of names of those who apply for marriage licenses. They also publish articles about the weddings, and anniversary milestones such a couple's 50 wedding anniversary. These articles are very valuable because they may state relationships, so you should also check newspapers for the area where your family lived.

Churches were the first to record vital records that included births, deaths and marriages. Later these records were required to be sent to the county or state governments. Since, generally, a license was needed to marry, you may be able to locate both a church and civil record of your ancestor's marriage.

Interviews with family members may yield information from a relative who may remember the wedding.

Tombstones - sometimes the only record you can find of a marriage is carved into a tombstone "Ada Tuthill wife of Levi Bliss died Jan 19, 1826, age 25". Not a marriage record exactly, but definitely indirect evidence that one took place.

Pension applications will state the name of the spouse. If a widow applied for a pension, she had to prove that she was married in order to qualify for her husband's pension. One widow tore out, and mailed in a Bible page which contained her marriage information as proof of her marriage.

Census records also provide relationship information, and sometimes will point you to a year of a couple's marriage. Don't stop there, however. Locate the original record if possible because it will yield more information.

Since the twentieth century, many states began to require that a record of the marriage be transferred from the county to the state level, so it may be possible to find a statewide index.

There is no national marriage index for the United States, but if you know the place of the marriage, you should search the International Genealogical Index www.familysearch.org. This index is best for records before 1875, but it is free and can help you find evidence of a marriage in another country. Remember it is an index and you will need to find the original records for detailed information.

Sometimes records of marriages can be more difficult to find, but they are definitely worth the time it takes to search them out. Enjoy the Journey!

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