Frequently Asked Questions about Marriage Records

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These are questions I asked when I started doing genealogy research. I found the answers very helpful in sorting out what I needed to look for in my search for ancestors. I hope they help you too.

  1. What are "Primary" and "Secondary" source records?
  2. Why search for Marriage Records?
  3. What information can I find in a marriage record?

1.   What are "Primary" and "Secondary" source records?

A. Marriage licenses and certificates from county courthouses, formally recorded in marriage books are considered primary sources of marriage records because the information obtained is from the persons in the records.

Secondary sources include newspaper announcements of weddings and marriages, engagements, and anniversaries, information in old letters and bibles, family trees, family websites, etc., information the writer gets second-hand which may or may not be accurate.

Secondary sources of marriage records should always be verified with primary records if possible. The only Primary Sources of marriage records online are actual images (pictures or scans) of marriage licenses, certificates, and marriage book pages.

Church records of marriages are hard to place in either category, as they may have been recorded as soon as the marriage happened by the person officiating, or they may have been recorded at a later date by someone else, thus increasing the chance of forgotten details and misinformation.

    Sources of online genealogy research for marriage records:

  • Images of certificates, licenses, etc.
  • Family trees and Family genealogy websites.
  • Free genealogy databases such as RootsWeb.
  • Subscription services such as Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com.
  • Transcribed or scanned family bible records.
  • Transcriptions of church records.
  • Transcriptions of marriage record books and marriage record indexes.
  • Transcribed or scanned marriage, engagement, and anniversary announcements from old newspapers. (Obituaries also sometimes contain date of marriage and wife's maiden name.)
  • Website marriage record directories and databases such as GenWed, which brings all of these sources together for you.

2.  Why search for Marriage Records?

A. Marriage records are part of a larger group of important genealogy records called Vital Records which tell us fundamental information about our ancestors. More...

Approximately half of the ancestors we research are married women, whom upon marriage change their last name to the husband's. This makes some unique problems for genealogists. Sometimes finding a bride's maiden name on a marriage record is the ONLY way to find information about our ancestors!

GenWed's marriage record indexes include names of bride and groom, date married, location of marriage, and may also contain the marriage book number and page.

Once you find a possible relative in one of the marriage record indexes, you will be able to contact the state or county and order a copy of the original primary source marriage record, either a copy of a marriage certificate or marriage license. The original marriage record should have the correct spelling of names, maiden name of bride and more. (See information found in marriage records.)

The easiest to find marriage records are:

A marriage license, a sort of "Permit to be Married" were filed before the event in the town or county where the wedding was to take place. The license was then recorded into a Marriage Register or Book indexed by date and year.

A marriage certificate, issued to the bride and groom after the wedding, was usually kept with the family records such as birth certificates, deeds, wills, wedding and anniversary announcements, etc.


3.  What information can I find in a marriage record?

A. Information gleaned from marriage records will include:

         Groom's full name, age, and occupation.

         Bride's maiden name, age, and occupation.

         Date of marriage.

Other information about the bride and groom included in some marriage records:

  • Age and birth dates.
  • Single, widowed, or divorced at time of marriage.
  • Residence at the time of marriage.
  • Parents names and occupations.
  • Witnesses and officials names.
  • Where the marriage took place.