Show Notes: Marriage records are essential to building your family tree. Here are the 5 steps you need to in order to find an ancestor’s marriage record.
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5 Steps to Finding Marriage Records for Genealogy
A really good Spring cleaning task is to look through your family tree, starting with yourself and working backwards, and just checking to see if you have all the vital records for everyone. Vital records include birth, marriage and death records. Civil marriage records are typically some of the oldest vital records, and offer valuable information.
Step 1: Determine the time and place.
Time and place are critical to marriage record searches. Records like census records can help you get within 10 years of a marriage, and can also help you narrow in on the location of the wedding. Thankfully, all U.S. Federal Census records are free and online at FamilySearch.
Marriage records are typically filed at the county level. However, they can sometimes be found at the town level, particularly in New England.
It’s very important to identify the correct county at the time of the estimated marriage. You can do that using the Newberry Library’s Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. Click on the state and then select the time frame.
Step 2: Use a genealogy guidance website
Genealogy “guidance” websites pull together information from a variety of sources to aid you in your research in a particular area. Here are two of my favorites:
Click on North America > United States > State. Scroll down the state page and click on the county. Use Alt + F to quickly search for the word marriage.
The wiki will likely also provide you with links and clues as to where to find the records. Remember, it’s not always a comprehensive list, but it’s a great place to start.
Learn more about the Wiki with these videos:
- How to Navigate the FamilySearch Wiki (and find what you need!)
- Dive Deeper into the FamilySearch Wiki (Genealogy Gems Premium Membership required)
If civil marriage records had not yet started when your ancestors married, look for church marriage records. Learn more with my video: How to Use Church Records for Genealogy (Premium)
- All-volunteer website
- Organized by state and then county.
- Great place to tap into the collective brain trust of genealogists interested in the same area.
- Provides information such as when records started, how to access them, or if they are no longer available.
- Provides links to online records.
Step 3: Genealogy Records Websites
If those leads don’t pan out, next turn to major genealogy websites. Start with the free FamilySearch, then if you have subscriptions to sites like Ancestry or MyHeritage, use those. (Note: These are affiliate links and we are compensated if you make a purhcase.) Only a fraction of these website’s record collections are included in their hints and suggestions. This means that the card catalog is essential if you want to scour all the records.
Learn more about searching Ancestry’s card catalog: Ancestry Top Tips and Hot Keys (Premium)
Step 4: Contact the jurisdiction that originally created the records
If you don’t get the record that way, you’ll need to do it the old-fashioned way: contact the county or town clerk.
Early vital records are often moved to the state level. That contact information can likely be found on the FamilySearch Wiki page you found, or you can Google:
County name, state “marriage records”
Check the following repositories:
- State Library
- State Archive
- State Historical Society
- County Historical Society
- Other: _________________________________________
Step 5: Google Search
If all else fails, turn to Google to see if there are any other repositories or online resources outside of the largest genealogy websites and archives. Use search operators to focus your search.
Example: Randolph County Indiana “marriage records” 1880..1900
The quotation marks ensure that the exact phrase (Marriage records) is included on each web page result you get.
Two numbers separated by two periods is called a Numrange search. This instructs Google to also ensure that each web page result includes a number (in our case, a year) that falls within that range. It’s a great way to target marriage records from a particular time frame.
Learn more about marriage record research with these two instructional videos: