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Marry, Marry, Quite Elusive

Marriage data is especially useful in genealogical research, but you have to dig very deep and cast a wide next, because it's not all on the web.


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The other day I was listening to some Monkees songs from the Sixties - OK, my secret is out, I am over 21 (by a few decades), and the refrain of Mary continued in my thoughts.

We are often are looking for marriage information, and with good reason. Of course, many people marry and go on to have a family. Even if there are no issue, people's lives are affected by the persons that they choose to spend their lives with (or part of them, these days). Not surprisingly, marriage is unique in a number of genealogical ways.

First, we do not give our own birth data, of course. An adult does. We won't get into the surety of paternity (as in Mama's baby, Daddy's - maybe). I can think of a situation I have researched where a man had three wives. The first he had children with, and she died. He married the second, and had no children with her - but she died early too. He then married a third time and had several more children. What's so strange about that? Well, the third wife had a baby before she married the man, and gave the father as unknown. The second wife was still alive, but died shortly thereafter, leading me to believe that she had been sick (after all, 200 year-old church records in a rural area are probably the best I am going to get for peasant people). The third woman named her baby the same name as the man she later married - and he was known as Junior his whole life. And the couple married a month after the death of the second wife. So this looks like a little premature childbearing in anticipation of the second wife dying. Still, when the couple married, they gave their ages, birthplaces, and parents (as, in fact, the man in this case did three times).

And that's what makes marriages unique. A baby doesn't give data. Neither does the person who has died - a survivor (hopefully) does. But a marriage has two people of legal age (probably), of sound mind (arguable, but that's for a marriage counselor to determine), giving their ages; birthplaces; birth dates; places of residence; occupations; former marriages if any; and parents, including the wife's maiden name and her mother's maiden name. If you are researching Germanic ancestry, you know what I mean. This isn't always the case in other sources, even American.

OK. Marriages are important genealogically. We will also leave out stepchildren and other more complicating factors for purposes of this article. Where can you find marriage data? For a good starting overview see the ever ready Cyndi's List at

This is where it can get weird. In the 13 colonies, there may be records printed and compiled in records of early towns well before America was a country. Church records may exist from the 1600s and 1700s. The trials of finding these are being lessened with the advent of computerized compilations that are searchable across time and places, but they still are not complete. And of course those records that have been lost are just that - lost.

Where else might they be? Try searching GenWeb pages for links to compiled and submitted data. In my area, there is a sample of what's available at Monroe County Cemetery and Vital Records.

A large number of early church records were filmed and taken to a college archives 200 miles away, where they are now 200 years later. Why? Because a historical grant provided the money to do so 30 years ago. And that's where those records are. Civil records exist for a few years in some of the suburban towns. But they don't begin to get good until 1880. The statewide index to marriages begins in 1880, and doesn't contain 2 large cities in the state (Albany and Buffalo) until 1914; and does not include the largest (New York) or another large metro area (Yonkers) at all, even today. New York City has it's own city records on film through about 1965 from the Family History Centers - but the Italian Genealogical Society has been indexing these and putting them online. (See: Italian Genealogical Group) There is a pop out menu when you hover over the Databases section on the left hand side of the page.

In Rochester, NY, the city has over 150,000 marriage records online (with various degrees of included information) online and it is free and searchable. (See: However, one must check all individual towns—offline—to make a complete search. Here's why. The county record books cover only 1908 to 1935 and are only in the clerk's office downtown. And not to be outdone, the 1865 state census has marriages within the last year before the census, which have been extracted and placed in a binder—predating official records by 15 years. Of course, since it is only handwritten in a three ring binder and is not online, you have to come in to the library and search it by hand. Did I mention it's not alphabetical either?

Buffalo has a basement index room with records handwritten going back to the 1830s. Newspaper indexes in my library have a large number of marriage notes. There are 500,000 items in the index—we have never counted the marriage record notices mentioned therein. And how many have been printed in long run publications? Uncountable—think of the Connecticut Nutmegger, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New York Historical and Biographical Record—and so many other publications, including local genealogical society publications that have extracted data.

My favorite place to find marriage records was a book, written in pencil, which I found in a garbage can. That's no joke. It was rescued from a dumpster by the sheer luck of a glance. In it were decades of marriages in Western New York, from rural areas. It was eventually identified and given to the public library in Buffalo.

So the advice is, records do exist. You have to dig very deep and cast a wide next, because it's not all on the web, and the control of such data leaves a lot to be desired organizationally. But if you want to find the important data on him and her, that's your task.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

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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