Searching for Marriage Certificates

by Christine Sievers

The last few articles covered the documentation of your ancestor's death. I am a little late getting this article out because I went on a long trip searching for ancestors' grave sites. I trod cemeteries large and small, from small plots on rural farms to a huge cemetery in the middle of Queens, New York.

I found help all around the country. When I was not able to find the exact location of a rural grave site before I left, I searched online for the local historical association or local library with a genealogical section and found the help I needed by visiting their brick and mortar site. I found the office of the cemetery in New York to be cheerfully helpful, even to giving me a human guide to the site. It is a journey I recommend for all. Seeing the grave site gives one a better understand of who that ancestor was. Of course, I had my digital camera aimed and busy.

Now it is ti me to move on to the next important vital record, the marriage document. For recent ancestors, (remember that your first task is to track your first dead male ancestor) this information is easier than finding later records. Tracking the male first makes sense as you go further back in your family tree. There will be many times when you do not know the maiden name of the female ancestor. This information can be found on the marriage certificate. From there, you can begin to trace her line.

Let's say that you are tracking your grandfather. To get a marriage record from a state or county repository, you will need, at least, an approximate date and the state and county where the marriage took place. If you don't know that, the first place to turn is older relatives. They may remember, and might even have a yellowed marriage announcement from a newspaper, or an invitation. Another resource is family bibles. Birth, marriage, and death notations are often recorded in them.

Getting a copy of the marriage certificate is your goal. But, there are other marriage records that you should be aware of. Especially, when a certificate becomes impossible to get. The article Researching Marriages will give you a basic understanding of the different types of records.

Once you have some information about where the marriage occurred, you will need to find out where those records are kept. This process can become complicated. I have found that marriage records are more difficult to locate than birth or death. States vary as to when they started keeping marriage records and where they are kept.

First, the article Marriage License or Record - How to obtain a copy in the United States will give you general protocols for ordering a license in any state. On that page is a link to vital statistics office. Click on that link and scroll down to the list of states. Go to the state you are searching to find information. Pay particular attention to the years covered. You may find that the record you need is located in an historical archive, rather than a government vital statistics office.

If you have to search further for that record, the USGenWeb will often provide the information you need. Start with the target state page searching for links to marriage information, then look at what is available at the county level. Click on links that provide vital statistics or marriage specific information. You may get lucky and find that someone has actually transcribed the record you are looking for. But, you still need to get a copy of the actual record.

Also, the books I mentioned in the previous article, "The Source" & "The Handybook for Genealogists" carries much of the same information. If you don't have your own copy of these books you will most likely be able to find them at your local library or genealogical library.

These links should keep you busy, providing a lot of information on marriage records. Even if the marriage record that you are searching is still elusive, the knowledge you gained will come in handy down the road.

One warning about searching on the web, stay focused. I have found myself wandering far off my search and gathering bits and pieces that leave me disorganized in my research. The best way to avoid this is to bookmark those sites that sound interesting (if your software allows, change the title of the website to something that will remind you of what is at that site), and go back to it when you are at the right point in your research.

Hopefully, you have struck paydirt in your search and are ready to send for that marriage certificate. If not; don't get discouraged. My next article will discuss how to search for alternative marriage records.

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