Gretna Greens are cities where people went to get married. They are named for a place called Gretna Green in Scotland. According to the web site for the Gretna Green, http://www.gretnaweddings.com/, because of Scotland's historical lax requirements for marriage; the couple only had to be over 16 years of age and declare themselves husband and wife in front of witnesses. People from neighboring countries like England have flocked to marry there. Gretna Green was the first post along the route from England to the Scotland border, so that's where eloping couples would stop to get married. With no restrictions such as residency requirements or parental consent (as long as the couple was over 16 years), Gretna Green, Scotland continues to be a place where couples from all over are married.
If you have an English ancestor whom you believe may have gone to Scotland to get married, check out the Achievements web site at http://www.achievements.co.uk/services/gretna/index.php, it has an index of Gretna Green marriages.
Gretna Greens in the United States were popular places to get married for a variety of reasons. One Gretna Green that existed about one hour from where I lived near Victorville, San Bernardino, California did not require a blood test to get married. Young, in love couples, could go there and get married quickly, without much fuss. As a teenager, I remember accompanying a friend who was in college, as she married her boyfriend at this Gretna Green. They filled out a paper but did not need a license or a blood test, paid a small amount of money and were married very quickly. Nothing fancy, but it got the job done. Other reasons for going to a Gretna Green to get married include, low fees, little paper work, and maybe even to get away from disapproving family members.
Some Gretna Greens exist because they may lack a waiting period. In 1927, California enacted the Gin Marriage Law. This law provided for a waiting period where a couple had to wait three days from the time they purchased their marriage license before they could get married. This was enacted at the height of the Probation era. The law was meant to stop couples who may be making the decision to become married while intoxicated, to give them some time to sober up. While this was the intention, the result of the law was that it drove couples to other places such as Yuma, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada, where they could get "quickie" marriages. Additionally, California passed a 1939 law that required a medical examination before marriage. During one year of the enforcement of the marriage law, Yuma recorded 17,000 marriages for a town that had 5,000 residents. Both Yuma and Las Vegas became the place for Hollywood stars and the everyday person to get married.
On May 5, 1943, then California Governor Earl Warren, repealed the Gin Marriage Law. On May 7, 1943 the Redlands Daily Facts (a newspaper for Redlands, San Bernardino, California) reported on a couple who were the first in San Bernardino to receive the new marriage license and planned to marry on a nearby military base.
Genealogist Arlene Eakle, www.arleneeakle.com, discusses Gretna Greens and provides a list of 19 such places in the February 19, 2007 posting on her blog. Reading her list and reader comments might provide you with some more ideas for places your ancestors may have run off to to get married.
Divorces can also be had in Gretna Green type places. Las Vegas, Nevada and Mexico had been popular places for Californians to run off to for quick, cheap divorces since about the 1930's. These are places where not only could the person seek a quick divorce, they could then get remarried quickly.
Researching nearby Gretna Green's may provide you with the answer as to why you haven't been able to find your ancestor's marriage.