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Sunday, July 17, 2016

'I Do' Genealogy: Sources and Types of Marriage Records


Finding clues about your ancestor's marriage can be a challenge. If the marriage occurred during the colonial period or before the recording of marriage licenses, you may feel bombarded by the various names for marriage records and whether the record can even be used to verify a marriage occurred. You will need to determine if the record that you find is only just a clue that points the way to that actual record of the marriage taking place. The tips below on where to find marriage records and the different terms to use to find them will lead you in the right direction.

Where do you find marriage records?
You can document marriages through a variety of sources. You will need to have some idea about the locality where your ancestor was married. The most common places to look are:
  • church records, often the earliest record that exists for marriages.
  • deeds, wills, and other court records
  • newspapers (use to give clues to original record)
  • marriage books, often found in local libraries (not original records)
  • local archives
  • FamilySearch Catalog microfilm
Records within your family archives that may mention marriages include: Bibles, journals, diaries, old letters, biographies, and certificates. Census records, death certificates, and headstones can also give clues to when or to whom ancestor was married, and do not rule out military pension applications. For a host of other records that provide clues about marriages, see 8 Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestors from the blog.

What are some different types of marriage records?
Bann – Marriage announcements, banns, were made in church providing notice of the intent to marry. Here are two examples of banns announcing marriages in Maryland in 1763 from Pedigo-Pedego-Perigoe-Peregoy Marriage Records.

Bond – Grooms signed a bond proving there was no moral or legal reason that he should not get married. To learn more about marriage bonds, see "The ties that bond," from The Legal Genealogist.

Consent affidavits – When the bride or groom was under the legal age for getting married, a parent or guardian would sign a consent affidavit. Here is an example of a consent for Robert M. Womack to marry Elizabeth Sanders written on August 1, 1850.

Declaration of intent – See Declarations of Intent at Wiki.

Intentions to marry – When you discover a record of intention to marry, look for the record that proves your ancestor actually got married. Learn which records fall in the category of Records of Intention to Marry.

Marriage certificate – See this 1926 sale Oregon marriage certificate.

Marriage contract - "Marriage contracts are relatively uncommon. They were usually drawn up when one or both parties was wealthy or might inherit a substantial estate, and wished to protect the inheritance rights of heirs." See Marriage Contracts ( Wiki) to learn more.

Marriage license application – Marriage applications and licenses (see marriage license below) are the most common type of marriage records and have the most genealogical information. They are the also the most recent types of marriage records. See United State Marriage Records at FamilySearch Wiki to learn more.

Marriage license – See this 1931 marriage license from Jefferson County, Missouri. When you find a marriage license, you must still search for proof that the marriage took place.

Marriage return – document proving the marriage actually took place. See this marriage return from 1926 in Oregon from Arslanian Family.

Minister's return – The minister having performed the marriage would have provided a record of the date when the marriage took place. See Using Marriage Records in Family History, Family History Episode 24 of Lisa Louise Cooke's Genealogy Gems to learn more.

Registration of marriage – Indexes to civil registrations make it easier to locate marriage registrations which may otherwise not be arranged alphabetically or by year. The date when marriages were first recorded varies for each locality. When you locate the marriage on an index, use that information to locate the original record. The collection, Ireland Civil Registration Indexes 1845-1958, includes marriage registrations.
Other records that provide proof of marriage are listed here.


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