Marriage Records & Licenses

A marriage record or marriage certificate belongs in the category of vital records, meaning that it is kept by the government for civil registration purposes to protect each individual's legal rights.

When exploring the complex web of family history, marriage records can be a beacon of light to help illuminate our ancestors' lives. Marriage records typically record key information that can be quite helpful for your genealogical efforts, including: the dates of birth of both parties; the age of both parties at the time of marriage; the location of birth for both parties; and the names of the parents of both parties.

Locating marriage records for our ancestors is a great way to "fill in the blanks" of our past. For example, we may know our grandparents' or great grandparents' names and date of marriage, but we may not know other key details, including their birth dates or their parents' names. A simple search can yield a marriage certificate, thereby providing us with a significant amount of additional information that will undoubtedly help us along our genealogy journey.

The best rule of thumb when researching vital records, including marriage records, is to look to the state where the marriage took place. Each state is responsible for maintaining their own vital records, through their vital records office, so your ability to access a marriage record or license will depend on the appropriate state agency. You can either request these online, y mail, or person.

Official and Indexed Marriage Records

Official Marriage Records: While each state has its own requirements for accessing official marriage records, you can typically pay a fee ranging from $12 to $20 and obtain this information through the state's Department of Health and Vital Records. To easily find your specific state's department, utilize the CDC's search page for helpful links on how to obtain marriage records from each department. If you have no luck at the state level, try contacting the county clerk in the location where the individuals were married. Keep in mind that because each state maintains its own records, they will likely have their own set of rules and regulations for obtaining this information.

Indexed Marriage Records: Indexed marriage records can be researched through different websites. Some of these websites offer free records, but the accuracy of this information is questionable. To obtain accurate marriage records, utilize authoritative websites. While these websites may require a fee, the exact information you receive can be critical for your research.

A Robust Family History is Painted with Marriage Records

Marriage records can truly help the researcher paint a more detailed picture of his or her family tree. As one of the few vital records that demonstrate how different families are joined together, marriage records can be utilized as the starting point to exploring the true history behind every ancestor. Considering that four parents are typically included on every marriage record, this one piece of information can shed tremendous light on the overall composition of ancestors past.

Helpful Tips

Officials tend to be more relaxed in providing access to marriage records and, subsequently, your search for these documents can often be easier than seeking other types of vital records (birth and death records are often much harder to access due to privacy issues). Marriage records can offer you a fantastic opportunity to find out other information about your relatives. Often, you can use the names and geographical information to lead you to newspaper articles that include wedding announcements. Such announcements might shed light on historical events and characteristics you did not know about your predecessors and lead your research in another direction.

Marriage and Divorce Records

Vital records and court records are invaluable in genealogical research, with details about both the person and the residence. Generally marriage records are vital records, while divorce records are public court records.

American vital records are maintained at the state level, aggregated into population statistics used for planning. Court records are maintained at the specific court level: city, county or district, or state. While some states have some restrictions on privacy of marriage records, most do not. Divorce records generally have no restrictions.

The website for each state's Vital Records office has mail-in application forms. Some allow in-person, phone, or fax requests, with online requests through VitalChek. Requests for divorce record copies must be made to the clerk of the specific courthouse where the divorce was granted, usually a civil or district courthouse. Many marriage and divorce records are available online, as are indexes of these records.

The marriage record is composed from the marriage license information: names, ages, residences, witnesses, and sometimes birth dates, occupations, parents' names, and parents' addresses. Genealogically, this information can help to locate church records, newspaper accounts, and most importantly, an ancestor's maiden name.

Divorce records may contain just the names and date. Some also include ages, residences, prenuptial agreements, child custody or support, alimony, and causes. Genealogically, this information is valuable to confirm ancestry of children.

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