Best Strategies: How to Find Church Marriage Records

Finding church marriage records may not be as easy as finding civil marriage records. I’ve invited genealogist Sunny Morton to share her best strategies for finding U.S. church marriage records from her new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide.

Strategies for Finding U.S. Church Marriage Records

Marriage records are part of that genealogy trinity of U.S. vital records. In addition to documenting the wedding, marriage records may also serve up the equivalent of genealogical party favors, such as the birth dates, birthplaces and sometimes even parents’ names of the bride and groom.


Civil or government records are generally the first ones we turn to in the United States. These types of records are commonly referred to as “vital records,” since they document important events in a person’s life like birth, marriage, and death.

Civil marriage records can be fairly easy to find and access. However, that’s not always the case. There may be times you can’t obtain a civil marriage record. If you do find it, it may not include all the information you were hoping for. And sometimes you’d just like to find more corroborating evidence or additional clues about their lives. That’s when it’s a good idea to turn to church marriage records.

Best Strategies for finding church marriage records

Though not all of our U.S. ancestors were married in a church or by a member of the clergy, many of them were, so church marriage records may exist.

In general, finding U.S. church records is a two-step process:
1. identify the right church
2. then find its records.

However, this may actually involve a few additional steps.

I’m going to share with you the steps and strategies of this process from my new book How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide. Along the way we’ll see how they apply to a real genealogy case that resulted in success.

Step 1: Identify the Church of Your Ancestor

Identifying the church in which an ancestor married is key to locating any surviving record of it.

Let me give you the first and most important tip: the answer may be sitting under your nose.

What do I mean by that? Start by looking carefully back through other records you already have about the bride or groom. These types of records include obituaries, oral histories, county histories, tombstones, etc. Do they mention a church affiliation?

Church Clues in other genealogical records

Example for Lisa’s family history

Even if they don’t mention a church, perhaps one of these records can give you a clue.

For example, let’s say the husband’s obituary mentions his lifelong religious affiliation, like Methodist or Catholic or Baptist, but not the name of the local congregation. My book offers several detailed strategies for tracking down the church name, but here’s one of the most helpful: Look at city directories, histories or maps from that time period to identify nearby churches of that denomination. Keep in mind that before the age of the automobile, people couldn’t travel far to attend church.

Let’s say you find both Irish and German Catholic parishes in the area. Based on what you already know about your family, with which did they likely affiliate?

If you’ve got the civil marriage record, look at the name of the officiator. Do you see a title hinting that this was a minister, such as “Rev” (short for Reverend)? (As an FYI, the initials “J.P.” stand for Justice of the Peace, a civil office.)

Occasionally you may even see the denomination written right in the record, as it is in the Colorado civil marriage record of Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman:

How to find church records: Colorado civil marriage record

Colorado civil marriage record of Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman

Most marriage certificates don’t state a minister’s affiliation but searching with Google may be able to help you with that.

For example, the Indiana marriage certificate for another ancestral couple of mine identifies the officiator as “S.B. Falkenberg, Minister.” Googling that name, along with the keywords church and Indiana, led me to online books that identified him as a Methodist.

Additional digging revealed that “Somers B. Falkenburg”—probably the same guy—was specifically assigned to the Rushville Circuit of the Southeast Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1860. This was around the time and place I’m looking for that 1861 marriage record. (Learn to do this kind of digging yourself from my book. See Chapter 14 Methodist.)

Step 2: Find Where the Church Records are Located

Once you’ve identified the church, it’s time to search for congregational records that may document the marriage.

Your strategy may vary, depending on the denomination, the time and the place. Again, my book can help you: there’s a chapter with general strategies for finding church records and there are specific chapters on various denominations. Here are some get-started strategies.

Googling the Church

Find out whether the church still exists by googling the church name and location or using the online congregational locator tools I mention in the various denominational chapters.

If the church still exists, you’ll likely find a website, Facebook page, or other contact information. Reach out to their office and ask about their old records.

If you can’t find the church online, it may have closed, merged with another church, or been renamed.

Contact the Church Organization

You might turn to regional church offices or archives, such as those of a Catholic diocese or Methodist conference, to see whether they can tell you anything about that church or its records.

Methodist Conference c. 1904

Each denomination has a different organizational structure. (See the 12 different denominational chapters in Part 2 of my book.)

An Example Search

How to find church records: civil marriage records search

Searching for church directories

Remember that 1889 civil marriage record for Mike Fox and Mary Eiarrman I showed you previously? Let’s take a look at the process I used to find their church marriage record.

Since the civil marriage record told me that the officiator Godfrey Raeber was a Catholic priest, I turned to the annual Catholic Directory for that year to see what parish (local congregation) he was assigned to.

I googled catholic directory 1889 and found that year’s edition online at HathiTrust Digital Archive.

Keyword-searching within the directory for Raeber didn’t bring up any results, but I didn’t stop there. I paged through it until I found the listing for the diocese of Denver (it is now an Archdiocese).

I found the priest listed at St. Ann’s, but his surname was spelled a little differently, which is why I couldn’t find him with that keyword search:

How to find church records for genealogy

Immediately, I googled St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Denver, Colorado. Nothing came up. So, I googled Denver Catholic diocese archive and found the archdiocesan archivist’s contact information. I called him and asked what he could tell me about St. Ann’s parish and its records. The parish had closed, he said, and he had the records right there. What did I need?

Hooray! I mailed him a check and emailed him the specifics of my request. He sent me back a copy of Mike and Mary’s entry line in the marriage register:

In case you can’t read it easily, the entry references their marriage on the 28th (the month and year, in preceding columns, are “ditto-marked” the same as the entry above it, which I can’t see, but I have the date already from the civil marriage record). Then Mike Fox’s name appears, age 23, “1” for his first marriage, Denver residence, son of Martin & Francis, born in Germany.

How to find church records for genealogy

How to find church records for genealogy - marriage entry

Similar information appears for Mary, the bride, though her surname is mostly illegible. These details (age, parents’ names, birthplace) were what I hoped to learn when I originally ordered the civil marriage record—but it’s not there. Only by taking the extra steps to find the church marriage record did I uncover these additional details.

I’m still looking for a Methodist record of that marriage recorded by S.B. Falkenberg. I’m guessing his was a traveling assignment covering many small towns, which means his own personal log book may have been the only place he would have created a record, if indeed he did. The records of itinerant ministers are not easy to find.

The Search for Church Marriage Records Can Lead to More Gems

It’s true that you won’t always find church records of ancestors’ marriages or other life events such as births, baptisms, deaths or burials.

Sometimes the records weren’t created; for example, Baptists didn’t generally record marriages, as they weren’t considered a religious rite.

Or perhaps membership records have been destroyed or lost.

Occasionally, you’ll track down the records only to find they aren’t accessible to researchers. That’s sometimes true for Catholic sacramental records, which are confidential—though many church or archive offices will release copies or transcriptions of older records.

How to find U.S. church records

But while following the process for church records, you may discover other gems that can add color to your family history stories.

For example, when I was looking for Catholic parish records in Olyphant, Pennsylvania, I found a short history of the church. It described the devotion of its earliest members, who raised the funds to erect their building and even helped dig its foundations. Though I can’t prove it, I have reason to believe this family was part of that devoted group.

Other times, you may find photos, directories, reminiscences or other records that give you a glimpse of your ancestors’ church community life.

A Genealogist’s Guide to Finding Church Records

While the 2-step process for finding church marriage records is straight-forward, each case requires unique resources. In How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide which I wrote with Harold Henderson, CG lays out a plethora of specific resources for the major Christian denominations in the U.S. before 1900:

church records book cover• Amish,
• Anglican,
• Baptist,
• Congregational,
• Dutch Reformed,
• Latter-day Saint,
• Lutheran,
• Mennonite,
• Methodist,
• Quaker,
• Presbyterian,
• Roman Catholic,
• and various German churches.

More than 30 archivists, historians, and genealogical experts in specific faith traditions have contributed their knowledge to the book.
Church records won’t always be your genealogical salvation, but every so often—hallelujah!—they will prove to be your saving grace.

About the Author

Sunny Morton (along with Harold A. Henderson, CG) is the author of the books How to Find Your Family History in U.S. Church Records: A Genealogist’s Guide, and My Life & Times: A Guided Journal for Collecting Your Stories. She is also a contributing editor to Family Tree Magazine.

(Disclosure: Genealogy Gems is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting articles like these by using our link.)

 

New Online International Records Online

Here are the latest genealogy records newly online from Findmypast. You’ll find a large selection from Scotland, and others from around the world. 

international genealogy records

Scotland, Published Family Histories
Is your family from Scotland? Discover more about your Scottish families’ name and history from this collection of publications. There are over 400 publications in this collection of Scottish family histories.

The publications mostly date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, they include memoirs, genealogies, and clan histories. There are also publications that have been produced by emigrant families.

Scotland, Newspaper Birth Notices
Over 121,000 new records have been added to our collection of Scottish newspaper birth notices. These new additions have been transcribed from our existing collection of Scottish newspapers.

Each record includes a transcript and an image of the original newspaper announcement. The amount of information listed varies, but most records will list a combination of your ancestor’s birth date, birth place and parents’ names.

Scotland, Newspaper Marriage & Anniversary Notices
A further 201,000 new records have also been added to our notices of marriages and anniversaries.

Also taken from our existing collection of historical newspapers, the records will include a combination of your ancestor’s marriage date, marriage place, spouse’s name and parents’ names. Images of the original notices may reveal additional details.

Scotland, Newspaper Death Reports & Obituaries
Over 500,000 additional records are now available to search. This collection of newspaper death reports and obituaries may reveal interesting or undiscovered stories surrounding your ancestors’ life and death.

Transcripts will reveal your ancestor’s death date, age at death, parents’ names and the name of their spouse.

Scotland, Glasgow & Lanarkshire Death & Burial Index
Over 37,000 records have been added to the Glasgow & Lanarkshire Death & Burial Index. These new additions cover Bent Cemetery in Hamilton and consist of transcripts of original documents that will reveal a combination of your ancestors’ birth year, death and burial dates, age at death, burial place and mortcloth price.

Scotland, Court & Criminal Database
Over 28,000 records from the Fife Kalendar of Convicts have been added to our collection of Scottish crime records.

The result of a 20 year project by Andrew Campbell of the Fife Family History Society, the Kalendar is an indexing to many of the courts in Fife as well as the High Court between 1708 and 1909. It includes information taken from a variety of sources ranging from court, prison and transportation records to births, marriages, deaths and newspaper reports.

Each result will include a transcript of the original document. The amount of information listed in each transcript will vary, but most will reveal a combination of the accused’s name, birth year, birth place, address and occupation, the nature of their offence, the date and location of their trail as well as the sentence they received.

Some records will also include trial notes, verdict comments, details of previous convictions and additional comments.

The Scotland, Court & Criminal Database now contains over 160,000 including Crown Office Precognitions and High Court Trial Papers. Crown Office Precognitions are factual statements that have been given by witnesses to both the prosecution and defence before the case goes to trial. Precognitions differ from a witness statement, a witness statement is an account of what the witness has said or seen were as a precognition is an account of the witness’s evidence.

Church of Scotland Ministers 1560-1949
Explore PDF images of the “The Succession of Ministers on the Church of Scotland from the Reformation”. Compiled by Hew Scott, D.D., The work was revised and continued up to 1949 under the Superintendence of a Committee appointed by the General Assembly.

As quoted in the book, “the design of the present work is to present a comprehensive account of the Succession of Ministers of the Church of Scotland since the period of the Reformation. An attempt is made to give some additional interest by furnishing incidental notices of their lives, writings and families, which may prove useful to the Biographer, the Genealogist, and the Historian.”

Isle of Man Roll Of Honour WW1
Find your Isle of Man ancestors who fell in the Great War. The Isle Of Man Roll Of Honour recorded the names of more than 1,900 men who died during the First World War or died as a result of wounds, injury or disease contracted on active service. These transcripts will reveal your ancestor’s rank, regiment, parish and biography.

Originally published in 1934 by the War Pensions Committee, the publication was funded entirely by Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby.

In 1936, the War Pensions Committee donated copies to each parish church throughout the island.

The foreword, provided by Lord Stanley, reads ‘It is well that the deeds of those who died in the Great War should find a permanent memorial in such a list. Whilst this generation lives their names will not be forgotten, but other generations will arise to whom they will not be personally known. This Roll will serve to keep their memory green and future Manxmen and Manxwomen, when reading it, will realise that in our great struggle the Isle of Man played a noble part’.

International Records Update – Czech Republic
Two new Indexes, Czech Republic Births & Baptisms 1637-1889 and Czech Republic Marriages 1654-1889 are now available to search. These transcripts will provide you with vital dates and locations as well as the names of parents and spouses. Hints will also be generated from these records against any matching names stored in your Findmypast family tree.

International Records Update – Belgium
Celebrate Belgian Independence Day this coming Sunday by discovering your Belgian roots. Explore two indexes, Belgium Marriages 1563-1890 and Belgium Deaths & Burials 1564-1900, containing more than 212,000 records.

These records will enable you to determine when your ancestors died, where they were laid to rest, when they married and the name of their spouse.

International records update – Finland
Search for your Finnish ancestors in three indexes of more than six million baptisms, marriages and burials between 1657 and 1909. These transcripts will also generate hints against any names stored in your Findmypast Family Tree.

Pinpoint your ancestor’s final resting place with new additions to our Billion Graves Cemetery Indexes. Our latest update includes:

Cemetery records are of great importance in discovering where and when your ancestor died. They can also provide you with information regarding their birth and marriage dates.

With an abundance of cemeteries, it can be overwhelming trying to pinpoint the precise cemetery in which your ancestor was laid to rest, and visiting each potential location is costly. However, in partnering with BillionGraves, we aim to make available all the cemetery records held on their site for free, saving you time and money as you search for your ancestor. BillionGraves is the largest resource for GPS-tagged headstone and burial records on the web, with over 12 million headstone records.

International Records Update – Netherlands
Unearth your Dutch roots with three indexes to more than three million births & baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials that took place in the Netherlands between 1564 and 1945.

These transcripts were sourced from the International Genealogical Index and will generate hints against your Findmypast family tree.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Comparing Digitized Newspapers on Genealogy Websites: Why Findmypast.com Gets a Headline

When it comes to digitized newspapers on genealogy websites, Findmypast is a clear headliner. The site already hosts millions of U.S., British, and Irish newspaper pages–and their British collection is about to DOUBLE. Extra, extra, read all about it!

 

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites

Genealogy Giants quick reference guide cheat sheet Big 4Here at Genealogy Gems, we regularly compare features of leading genealogy websites, or as we refer to them, the “Genealogy Giants:” Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage. Today’s topic: digitized newspapers.

It may surprise you to hear that digitized historical newspapers aren’t a big part of the collections at all four giant genealogy websites. In fact, only one site–Findmypast–offers access to millions of exclusive British and Irish newspaper pages and a major U.S. newspaper database (which is usually just available at libraries).

Why mention it now? Because a good thing just got better: Findmypast plans to double its British newspaper content over the next two years.

Digitized Newspaper Treasures at Findmypast.com

Findmypast’s enormous genealogy collections focus on the countries of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Findmypast and The British Library have been working together for several years on The British Newspaper Archive, now home to more than 22.5 million newspaper pages dating from the 1700s. But what many people might not realize is that these same newspaper pages are also available to Findmypast subscribers.

You can search newspaper pages on Findmypast by name (first and last) and by other keywords, such as an occupation, street address, event or another word that might be associated with your family in newspaper articles. You can narrow the date range of papers searched and even target specific newspapers:

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites

Original bound newspaper volumes at the British Library. Image from The British Newspaper Archive.

And it gets better. Findmypast just announced that over the next two years, it will nearly double its digitized newspaper collections! It is scanning over 12 million pages from the largest private newspaper collection in the UK: the Trinity Mirror archives. Over 150 local papers from across the U.K. are included. These pages have never been made available online, but will be on both The British Newspaper Archive and Findmypast. The project is already underway and moving along rapidly: up to 100,000 pages per week.

According to a press release, “The program builds on an existing partnership that has already resulted in the digitization and online publication of upwards of 160 Trinity Mirror titles, including significant coverage of both World Wars. Published online for the very first time, these war-time publications also included the Archive’s first national titles, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Herald.”

TIP: If you are interested in accessing British newspapers, but not needing the full range of genealogy resources offered at Findmypast, consider purchasing PayAsYouGo credits from Findmypast. You can purchase 60-900 at a time and “spend” them to view individual search results, including newspapers. You can also subscribe separately to The British Newspaper Archive.

More Digitized Newspapers on Genealogy Websites

The other giant genealogy websites do offer some newspaper content–indexed, imaged, or both. Here’s a short summary of what you’ll find on Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and MyHeritage:

digitized newspapers on genealogy websites Ancestry.com subscription options

Ancestry.com’s subscription options.

Ancestry.com: This giant site does offer some digitized newspaper content, including images connected to indexed names in Historical [U.S.] Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003, Australia’s New South Wales Government Gazettes, 1853-1899 and Canada’s Ottawa Journal (Birth, Marriage and Death Notices), 1885-1980. But Ancestry.com’s biggest newspaper collections are mostly indexed obituaries (not images of the actual newspaper pages). Ancestry.com subscribers who want major access to digitized newspapers should consider upping their subscription to “All Access,” which includes Basic access to Newspapers.com.

FamilySearch: Millions of indexed obituaries are searchable by name on its free website, but it doesn’t generally offer any digitized newspaper pages. Of its billion+ historical record images, FamilySearch prioritizes more “core” genealogical records, such as vital records, censuses, and passenger lists.

MyHeritage.com: This site used to have access to NewspaperARCHIVE, the same U.S. newspaper database Findmypast currently offers, but it doesn’t now. It’s got new collections of Ohio (4.5 million pages from 88 sources) and New York (1.9 million pages from 56 sources) newspapers and access to the Jewish Chronicle [England]. But the bulk of its newspaper search results come from searching two other websites: Chronicling America and Trove, run by the national libraries of the United States and Australia, respectively. While it’s convenient to search them from MyHeritage if you are already using it, it’s not a reason to subscribe, as you can use those sites for free.

More Inside Tips on the Genealogy Giants

Genealogy Gems is your home for ongoing coverage and insight into the four ‘genealogy giants’ websites. Click here to learn more and to watch the RootsTech 2017 world premiere of my popular lecture that puts these big sites head-to-head. Genealogy Gems has published my ultimate quick reference guide, “Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites.” It distills that hour-long lecture (and I was talking fast!) into a concise, easy-to-read format that will help you know which websites are best for you to use right now.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!

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