Marriage Documents Pt. 2 - Church Records

by Christine Sievers

The last article covered ways in which you can use the Internet to track down marriage certificates. You may have found that your initial search was unsuccessful. By the late 1800's, registration of marriages were records kept by almost all of the states. However, some records have been lost by poor record keeping, courthouse fires, etc. If you are fairly certain that you have the date and county of the marriage, but the official marriage certificate cannot be found, the record you are searching for may have fallen into that category.

This is when you will need to turn to other marriage records. If it was a religious wedding, a record is usually kept at the church or synagogue. Even when our ancestors were not regular church goers, important events such as funerals and marriages often took place in the family church. If family tradition has given you a church or synagogue that is still in existence, you can look up the address in an online directory. My favorite is

If you have the town but not the church, there are ways to track it down. Because you have already researched the death, recheck those records- obituaries, funeral cards, cemetery and mortuary records will mention where the funeral took place. Fortunately for us, many of our ancestors did not move around as much as we do. You may find that they, and their parents, were married and buried from the same church.

The wedding announcement may have been published in the local newspaper. These often include the church. Many have been microfilmed and are available at the town's genealogical or regular library. If you are not able to visit these in person, I again recommend USGenWeb. You may be able to get the information on how to send for a copy, or find a volunteer to do a lookup for you.

Many church records have been microfilmed by the Family History Library in Utah. The churches are indexed by location. To see if they have the record you need, click on the ‘place search' at FamilySearch - Family History Library Catalog, enter the city in ‘place' and state in ‘part of''. That will give you a list of records. When you click on ‘Church records', you will be taken to a list of churches with dates. Click on the church you are looking for, and then ‘view film notes' at the top of the page. There you will find the number of the film you will need. You can borrow these microfilms for a small fee at your local Family History Center. To find the location of your FHC, go to FamilySearch - Family History Center. If you know the name of the church, order just that film at your local center. They are listed by denominations, you can order all the possible churches if you know only the denomination. I have found these records to be mostly from the mid to late 19th century.

In all of our research, we need to keep an open mind until we have official documentation. Family tradition may have given you the wrong date or location of the marriage. You may have been searching in the wrong place for the marriage certificate. They may have eloped, and had a civil marriage in another state or county, then a church wedding in their home town later. The bride may have been pregnant, and family tradition gave an inaccurate marriage date. These are just two examples of how marriage information can get confusing.

Family tradition, although at times inaccurate, provides the clues for finding official documents. Make a tentative timeline, with dates and locations, on your ancestor's life from those stories and the documentation that you already have. This will help you track your ancestor's life, and find new clues to expand your research.

If you are still searching for the marriage location, remember that a marriage will often take place at the church of the bride's family. How much do you know about her life? Another thing to consider is that the couple may have moved to another city after marrying. Sometimes, you will need to backtrack for a record, after researching further down the line to his or her parents.

Since, you are just starting your research, it is important not to get bogged down by one record. After making a hardy attempt, it might be necessary to move on. Sometimes what you are looking for pops up when you least expect it. As you learn more about various research techniques, you will have more resources at hand. The important thing is not to get discouraged by one record. First get the more readily available documents. This is how you will hone your skills, and feel some progress in your family tree research.

Additional Resources:


CyndisList - Religions & Churches There are some denominations listed separately on this page's "Categories".

CORRESPONDENCE HELPS - Correspondence Record

The Writing Rite Done Right, by George G. Morgan

<< Where's MY Family Tree?

What's New in Genealogy ... Today!
click to view original photo