There are many possibilities for locating marriage indexes, records, licenses and bonds. Sometimes it is a calculated guess as to when and where the marriage took place, but all possibilities should be explored. Some avenues of research include:
1. Internet (free and subscription information)
3. Courthouse records
4. Pension records
5. Church records
6. Family records .... Bibles, letters, diaries, journals
Many marriages have been indexed and are available on Internet at Ancestry.com, http://www.ancestry.com, accessible by subscription memberships. If you do not have a subscription in Ancestry.com, check to see if it is available at a library in your area.
Other marriage indexes or records can be found (free) on Internet. Begin by checking the state and county where you think the marriage occurred at USGenWeb, http://www.usgenweb.org. Not all states and counties on USGenWeb have marriage records, but it is worth checking. Be sure to also check the USGenWeb Archives at http://www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/.
There are also specific marriage record web pages on Internet. Some of these include:
Illinois Statewide Marriage Index 1763-1900
Maine Marriage Record Index 1892-1996
Also check the web page, Online Birth & Marriage Records Indexes for the USA at http://home.att.net/~wee-monster/vitalrecords.html.
The Family History Library (LDS) in Salt Lake City has thousands of reels of microfilm that pertain to marriage records. These are available through their loan program to Family History Centers. By checking the catalog at their Internet site,
http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp, you can ascertain which records and time periods are available. Do a place search, entering the state and county of interest. It is always wise to use the index of marriage records, even though you know approximately when a couple married.
If the Internet and microfilm falls short of your needs, consider visiting the courthouse where you believe your ancestors married. If this is not a possibility, write to the courthouse and ask about their marriage records and if they will search and make a photocopy of the record(s). Information on locations and addresses of county courthouses can be found at Genealogy.com: Resources by county at
http://www.genealogy.com/00000229.html. Many of the USGenWeb county pages contain information on courthouse holdings and addresses.
Pension records often contain information on marriages, showing dates and locations. I have found pension files that contain copies of the actual marriage record and in many cases depositions from somebody who witnessed the marriage. With this information, you can also search the actual records in the courthouse or on microfilm.
While you may not know if a couple married in a church, it is a good idea to explore that possibility. Look for names and addresses of churches in the county or area in which you are researching. Church information can be found on Internet in the yellow page directories, such as http://yellowpages.superpages.com. In states that did not begin recording marriage records at very early dates, such as Pennsylvania and New York, the church records may be the best avenue of research.
Clues to marriages can be found in family records, such as Bibles, letters, journals and diaries. Do not overlook these possibilities. You may have to contact several relatives to find out what they have in their treasure trove of old documents, but it's worth the effort.
Newspapers are definitely worth checking for announcements of marriage licenses, brief to extensive write-ups about marriages and engagement announcements. Don't overlook the possibility there will be something in print about a bridal shower which will announce when the marriage will take place. Bridal showers also took place after the event. Couples returning from honeymoons are sometimes remembered in the newspaper.
The general rule of thumb is that a couple married in the bride's town, church or even her home. When this doesn't appear to be the case, consider other locations, such as that of the groom. Because of waiting periods and license requirements, couples often went to a different state to say their "I-dos." In some cases, it was just the popular thing to do .... marry across the border.
I hope you will turn your quest for ancestral marriage records into something fun and enjoyable. Remember those special Valentines on your family tree and celebrate their marriages!