Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 24: Using Marriage Records in Family History
So far in this podcast series you’ve made a lot of progress. You’ve set up your genealogy database, talked to your relatives, gotten familiar with the Family History Centers and you have your research worksheet to lead you in your investigation backwards in time, through death records and the census.
In today’s episode we’re going to continue working backwards down the records aisle looking for marriage records. Marriage records are a type of vital records, meaning they provide vital statistics for a person’s life. They can be a rich—even vital!—source of genealogical information.
Marriage records, like death and birth records (which we’ll be covering in an upcoming episode) are primary sources. This means that the record was completed at the event or very close to it by someone who was present at the event. That means it’s a pretty reliable source.
There are two types of marriage records: civil records which are recorded with the local government, usually at the county level, and church records, if the marriage took place in a church.
Update: Many government and church marriage records have found their way into major genealogical databases (www.Ancestry.com, www.FamilySearch.org, www.FindMyPast.org, www.MyHeritage.com, etc). Look for indexed records and—if you’re lucky—digitized versions of the actual record. (If you find only indexed records, use the process below to find copies of the actual record.)
Civil/Government Marriage Records
You need to determine where the marriage took place in order to figure out the proper civil authorities to contact. Usually that’s the clerk in the town, county, district or parish where the happy couple said “I do.” In the U.S., chances are it was at the county level, but if you’re not sure, do a Google search on the name of the county and the phrase “vital records” or “marriage records.” Chances are one of the first search results will be a link to the website for that county and hopefully the specific page that will tell you how to request vital records. There you should find specific instructions about how to make the request and any fees involved.
3 Tips for Obtaining Marriage Records for Genealogy
Tip #1: Be sure and follow the instructions to the letter because otherwise you will likely have your request returned to you unfilled and asking for more information which just wastes time.
Tip #2: As with Death Records, it isn’t necessary to order a certified copy because you are not using it for legal reasons, just information reasons. Certified copies cost more and usually have more requirements to applying for them.
Tips #3 Request a complete photo copy (which is sometimes referred to as a LONG FORM) rather than a SHORT FORM which can be a brief transcription of the record. There may be clues in the original record that may be left out (or mistranscribed) in the SHORT FORM.
If all this sounds cumbersome there is an easier to request marriage records and that is through Vitalcheck.com (see below). While it costs more you can order the records quickly and easily online.
If you’re looking for civil records in England or Wales, those records have been officially recorded by local District Registrars who reported to the General Registrar Office since July 1, 1837. These records are probably easiest to access, particularly if you are not in the UK, through FindMyPast.com, which does charge a fee for each record.
Types of Civil Marriage Records:
Marriage application. I can’t guarantee they’re available in every county, but it’s definitely worth asking!
Marriage license. This record often holds the most genealogical value. It will include their names, ages, residences as well as perhaps their race, occupation, age, and perhaps their parents’ names.
Marriage register record. This confirms the marriage actually took place. This may be just a signature and date from the official who performed the marriage, and may be a small section at the end of the marriage license information. (The latter type of record may also be called a “marriage return” or minister’s return.”
Marriage certificate. While this record is part of the process it isn’t available through the vital records office. It would have been kept by the couple and will involve some looking around and asking relatives to see if it still exists.
Tip: A marriage license alone does not prove a marriage. A couple could easily apply for a license but never go through with the big day.
The church if it still exists. Search for their website. Contact the church office and ask if they have records for the time period you’re looking for. If they no longer have the records ask where they are being archived.
Check in with the closest local library and ask to talk to the reference desk.
Search the WorldCat catalog (see Links).
Check the US Gen Web site for the state and county where the marriage occurred (see Links). These sites are run by volunteers and each county has a different variety of records and resources available. Contact the local genealogy or and historical societies and ask for their help.
Other records to look for:
Banns of marriage records. Look for a record of the banns in the church minutes or church bulletins.
Newspaper marriage announcements. Tip: Keep in mind when you’re searching a newspaper database and you find a listing for what appears to be the right family in the right area but the date is way off, be sure and check it out because it just may be a republishing of the news you were looking for! (Learn more about newspaper research in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers.)
FamilySearch. To search for marriage records by place, click on Search, then Catalog, then search by location. You’ll find both government and church marriage records listed here. Look at the county level for U.S. government records; look at the municipal level or under the Church records category for church marriage records.
In Elevenses with Lisa episode 79 Lisa Louise Cooke explains:
How to find 1950 US Census Enumeration District (ED) Maps
The purpose behind them and how to interpret the maps
Ways to use the maps for your genealogy
This is a follow up to episode 51 on The 1950 Census for Genealogy. In that episode I discussed the importance of finding your ancestors’ enumeration district numbers in order to be able to find them when the digitized images are released (before the index is available.) In this episode I will walk you through how to locate the enumeration district (ED) number and then find the actual 1950 US Census ED map. We’ll wrap things up with a quick update on the release of the 1950 US Federal Census.
Episode 79 Show Notes
(Get your ad-free Show Notes Cheat Sheet at the bottom of this page in the Resources section.)
As I mentioned in Elevenses with Lisa episode 51 The 1950 Census for Genealogy, prior to 1880, U.S. Marshalls were the enumerators for the federal decennial census. Starting with the 1880 census enumerators were hired and they were each assigned an enumeration district, also known as an ED. These districts had to be mapped out so that the enumerators knew the area they were responsible for counting. Therefore, maps are drawn in anticipation of each census being taken, including the 1950 census.
Learn more by watching episode 51 on the 1950 census.
About the 1950 US Census Maps
It’s always important to understand the purpose of a record or source, and the 1950 Enumeration District maps (ED maps) are no exception. Unlike most maps where it’s all about accurately drawing up the current roads and geographical features, census ED maps are drawn up for the purpose of defining boundaries for the purpose of counting people. This means as we look at ED maps we need to keep a few things in mind.
The first thing to understand is that the 1950 ED maps were not necessarily up-to-date with the lay of the land in 1950. Not all streets, parks and features will be included. The reason for this is that the maps themselves were not created for this purpose. Existing maps were used and then enumeration district boundaries were drawn on them.
Maps came from a variety of sources including but not limited to county and City Planning Commissions, 1940 census bureau tract maps, and city engineers. In fact, from a mapping perspective the variety of maps in the collection are fascinating.
Look for the map title, description, legend and census stamps typically found in one of the corners. In this example (see image) from Aurora, Colorado the map used was originally created by the city engineer in 1946 and was revised in 1947.
1950 census map of Aurora, Colorado (Source: National Archives)
Following the end of World War II, the United States was growing at a quick pace in 1950. This is particularly true of the newly emerging suburbs. Therefore, if your ancestors built a new home in a new development in 1949, don’t be surprised if you don’t see the street on the 1950 census ED map. However, rest assured that the maps still hold value for your family history as they provide many interesting and unique details about the area surrounding your ancestors’ homes.
Each map was stamped with a small legend where the meaning for each of the colored lines drawn could be indicated. From my random sampling of 1950 census maps across the United States it appears that the coloring coding was consistent as follows:
Red = Township
Green = Corporate Limits/Ward
Orange = Enumeration District
Expect to see errors, inconsistencies and omissions in the maps. The more rural the area the more likely the map was compiled from several sources by the Census Bureau cartographers. This compilation created more opportunity for errors, and often used older maps.
Source: National Archives
The Meaning of Census Enumeration District Numbers
A census enumeration district number is made up of two numbers separated by a dash. The first number (in this example: 1) represents the county/region. The second number represents the area within the county that could be covered by an individual census enumerator within the amount of time provided for taking the census, about 2-4 weeks. The official start of the 1950 US Federal Census was April 1, 1950.
Census enumeration district (ED) numbers on a 1950 census map.
How to Find 1950 Census Maps
Some 8,000 census maps have been digitized and are available at the National Archives. However, the National Archives website can be challenging to navigate. I recommend using the Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder Tool at Steve Morse’s website.
1. Go to https:/stevemorse.org
2. In the menu in the upper left corner hover over US Census and in the secondary menu click Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder
3. Select the state from the first drop-down menu.
4. Next select the county.
5. Then select the city.
6. You will then see many enumeration district links listed. In order to find the right one for your ancestor’s home, enter the house number and select the street from the next drop-down menu. Don’t worry about directional parts of the address like west or east unless they are offered in the list of street names.
7. As soon as select the street name, the list of ED numbers should be reduced. In this example we are down to three.
8. To further reduce the possible ED numbers, we can select Cross or back street on same city block. If you’re not sure what the neighboring streets are, click the see Google Map This will plot the address you entered into Google Maps where you can then find the closest cross street, and the next streets over. If the address is not precisely marked on the map, check the address that appears in the Google Maps search box.
In my case, the One-Step tool didn’t allow me to specific W. Arcade, so Google Maps just gave me the general area, and not the address. By adding the W. to the address and pressing enter on my keyboard Google Maps was able to precisely plot the location. Now we can make note of the closest cross street (ex. N. Center), the street north of the address (E. Monterey Ave.) and the street south of the address (W. Noble St.)
9. Head back to the Unified 1880-1950 Census ED Finder page and enter each nearby street (you can enter multiple.) This should reduce the ED numbers one. This is the ED that includes your ancestor’s address.
How to Find 1950 Census Maps
1. Make note of the ED number, and then go back and click the button that says See ED Maps for ____________ County. You could have clicked this button without going through the process of locating the ED number, but the ED number makes it much easier to find your ancestor’s home street on the map. This number will also assist you in being able to find your ancestors in the 1950 census before it is indexed.
2. You will now be on the Viewing 1950 Enumeration District Maps in One Step Re-enter the city from the drop-down menu.
3. Click the Get ED Map Images You will receive two links. The first link is Links to NARA viewer will take you to the page on the National Archives website which includes all of the information about the map and the record hierarchy. Source citation information can be gathered from this page.
5. Click the second link called Direct links to jpegs on NARA server. This will take you to the image by itself as hosted on the National Archives website. I find this the easiest way to save the full resolution image to my computer hard drive. On my PC I right-click on the map and select Save Image As.
This page is also important if you want to use this image in another program such as Google Earth. The URL for this page is the direct URL to the image. Notice that it ends in .jpg. This means that it is the image alone, and this link can be used to create a custom map overlay in Google Earth. You can see an example of a custom map overlay in my video Create a Family History Tour with Google Earth Pro at the 06:13 mark.
Using YouTube for genealogy can be so effective partly because of who owns YouTube: Google!
In 2006, Google acquired YouTube, a video-sharing website, not long after it was launched. Ten years later, YouTube claims the attention of a billion people around the world: a third of all internet users. At last count, more than 300 hours of video footage are uploaded every minute to the site.
Why should genealogists care? For the same reason Susan Wojcicki wanted to buy YouTube. She was supervising Google Video acquisitions at the time of the purchase and is now the CEO of YouTube. According to this article, she watched the video shown below of teenage boys lip-syncing to a famous boy band. She doesn’t admit whether she enjoyed their groove, but she did say, “That was the video that made me realize that ‘Wow, people all over the world can create content, and they don’t need to be in a studio.'” Check it out–then keep reading.
Yes, YouTube makes it possible for anyone to share videos of all kinds, including genealogy-friendly content like:
Original footage of events all the way back to the invention of the movie camera.
Family history documentaries created by users that may include your family.
Instructional videos that will help you become a better researcher, create a family heirloom, or learn the latest genealogy software.
Video tours of archives, libraries, and other repositories that will help you prepare for and get the most out of your visit.
Interviews with genealogy experts and vendors.
Entertaining videos that add enjoyment to one of the world’s most popular hobbies.
Your family in other family’s home movies.
EVEN BETTER, Google’s acquisition of YouTube means you can use the same powerful search methodologies you use for Google searches to find YouTube content you want.
Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton didn’t really believe me when she read the YouTube chapter in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. Then she tried it. She discovered a 1937 film news reel showing her husband’s great-grandfather driving his fire engine! (Click here to read about her discovery and about how she’ll never doubt me again, ha ha!)
Why not take five minutes now to see what YOU can find on YouTube for genealogy?
1. Look again at the list above or click here to read more details about family history content on YouTube. Choose a family line, location, brick wall, display or craft idea to search for.
3. Browse results. If you don’t find anything useful, widen your search or come at it from a different angle.
4. Try additional topics. Certainly DON’T give up after one search! Sunny’s discovery was made on her second topic–less than five minutes after trying a first topic and realizing she didn’t know enough about that family to recognize their lives in the cool footage she was finding. Instead, she searched YouTube for a man she knew a lot about-enough to recognize him in a video that didn’t name him.
To learn more in-depth how to use YouTube for genealogy, I invite you to read my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. The YouTube chapter helped Sunny find amazing family footage in less than five minutes–see what it can do for you!