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You Know They Were Married, but . . .

One of the most frequent problems for a family history researcher occurs when a marriage certificate cannot be found.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
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One of the most frequent problems encountered by family history researchers happens when a marriage license for an ancestor cannot be found. This lack of a marriage certificate may pose a problem for people who are trying to gain get into a lineage society, but there are ways to prove the relationship without finding the marriage certificate.

It is relatively easy to find marriage certificates in the United States if you know where your ancestors married. The marriage certificate is recorded in the county in which the marriage took place. If your ancestors stayed in one place for several generations, you may be lucky enough to find all your marriage certificates. If your ancestors moved, as frequently happened in the early years of the United States, it may require some searching to find the marriage license.

In order to find where your ancestors married, it may be necessary to trace their paths from one home to another. A good way to do this is look at the typical historical trails that people used to travel from one location to another. For instance, there were several roads used to leave Virginia for Georgia, just as there were several favorite paths to go from Pennsylvania to Illinois. In the West, major thoroughfares for wagon trains and settlers were documented. Much of this information may be found on lists on and Sometimes state or local histories need to be consulted to get a better idea of the roads traveled.

Many early marriages are found on the Internet. You can go to or and check out separate counties in different states to see what is available. You can also use the resources on Large genealogical libraries will have books listing marriages. Some of them have been put on the Internet, but many have not. Another option is to contact the local probate or magistrate office to ask if a marriage certificate may be located. Always offer to pay for the record and to thank the person performing the search.

Sometimes even after searching, a marriage certificates may not be located. Many early marriages were performed by traveling preachers and never recorded in the county courthouse. Unfortunately, many county courthouses have burned and the records have been lost. For some people, you may search for years and years and not find the certificate simply because you do not know the location of the marriage.

Several options are available to prove the marriage relationship, even if the marriage certificate is never located. If your ancestor has died since the 1920's, you can probably locate a death certificate which will often list the spouse, if surviving. One of the most obvious is checking for a will or administrative or guardianship records. This may be done by following the same path as searching for a marriage certificate. Usually wills and administrative or guardianship records are kept in the same office as the marriage certificates. The difference is that you may know where your ancestors died while not knowing where they married.

You may be fortunate enough to have a family Bible. If this is the case, you need to go ahead and copy the pages listing the relationships, as well as the title page. A good idea, one that is not necessary to join lineage societies but that may help you preserve your family history, is to copy the front of the Bible.

Another obvious example to prove marriage relationships is checking census records. This works back through 1850 for the United States. Unfortunately, all census records before 1850 only list the name of the head of household and ages of the other family members. Mortality schedules, published the year before several of the censuses may also prove useful.

Newspapers may prove useful for some areas of the country, particularly if your ancestors lived in a more populated area. Newspaper records are more prevalent for the years after the 1860s, and they are more slanted to population centers than to rural areas. Obituaries are another way to possibly locate the relationship. You also need to check the social columns to see if your ancestors and their relationships are mentioned.

Deeds may prove useful. Relationships may be mentioned in the deeds. Sometimes property may be deeded to other family members, and the relationship of marriage mentioned in the deed.

Several methods may be used to show marriage relationships if the marriage certificates are not found. Just be sure to keep track of all the information that you can find. When you compile it, you will more than likely have accumulated enough information to verify your findings to your own satisfaction as well as to the p>specifications of many lineage societies.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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