First comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes someone years later looking for proof! Marriage is such a hot topic when it comes to genealogy research. Figuring out if your ancestors were married, and when they were married, can be a challenge. Luckily, there are a few options for finding this much needed information.
Types of Marriage Records
When trying to find an ancestor’s marriage, keep in mind the different records. If you’re looking for an actual marriage record, you will be looking for either a marriage register or a marriage license. If you can’t find either one of those, there is always the 1900 U.S. Census that may point you in the right direction. Last, but certainly not least, you should dig around in newspapers.
You can usually find marriage registers in county books. Many of these have been digitized and are easily accessible online. A basic marriage register gives limited information. At the very least, it will give you the date/place of the marriage, the names of the couple, and who performed the ceremony. Other marriage registers, like the one below, actually gives significant genealogy information. This marriage register belongs to my paternal Great Grandparents, James Anderson Hanna and Inez March Carpenter.
In the first line, we find the date of the marriage, their names, and their ages. We also see that they are both listed as single which means, unless one is fibbing, neither have been married before. In the second line, the marriage registers shows where they both live (Chapmanville, West Virginia). Next, it states James’ parents and then Inez’s parents. Yay! That’s another generation back! In the last two sections, it shows that James is a farmer and the name of the minister who performed the ceremony.
A basic marriage license usually has more information than a marriage register. A license tends to go into more detail, including the date it was applied for and the date of the actual marriage. When looking at the information included in a marriage license, make sure to pay attention to the details. You will often find potential family members, or at the very least family friends, listed as witnesses or even the person performing the ceremony.
For example, take the marriage license below for my maternal 2nd Great Uncle and Aunt, Royal Augustus Martin and Geneva Louise Hensley. If you look at the name of the minister who performed the ceremony, you will see the name J. W. Baker. I know that Royal’s mother was Stella Alice Baker. That leads me to believe that J. W. Baker must be related in some way. Spoiler alert, J. W. Baker is John William Baker who is Stella’s father. This means that Royal’s grandfather is the person who presided over the marriage ceremony!
1900 Census Records
An often overlooked source for marriage information is the 1900 U.S. Census. This census asks the head of household the number of years they have been married. While this gives you the number of years, keep in mind that people tended to lose track of time. Just like how ages fluctuate from census to census, the amount of years married is not always accurate. However, even if the number of years do not add up to the exact year, it will give you at least a ballpark.
The example below is from my paternal 2x Great Grandfather, James Benjamin Arthur. He actually nailed the number of years married. He states that he has been married 13 years which would put his marriage year in 1887. I have a marriage record for James and he was indeed married on July 21, 1887!
For more recent marriages, newspaper are the way to go. With the combination of engagement announcements and wedding articles, you can get a pretty accurate picture of what life was like for your betrothed ancestors.
The engagement announcement below is for my maternal Great Uncle and Aunt, Carl Edward Price and Alice Dianne Flannigan. Look at how much information is included!
Next is an example of a wedding announcement. While not as detailed as the above engagement announcement, there is still valuable information included. This article is in reference to the marriage of my paternal 2nd cousin 3x removed, Anna Riley.
Also, don’t discount articles regarding anniversaries! Like engagement and wedding announcements, these articles contain all kinds of good information. In a perfect genealogy world, these articles contain at least one picture of the couple and usually a list of family members who attended. Look for anniversary articles around milestone dates such as a 50th anniversary.
Marriage Records Tips
When researching marriage records, there are a few things to keep in mind. Watch out if dates fit. This means that if you known when your ancestor was born, do the math and see if the ages are appropriate for being married. Yes, marriages tended to happen to those younger in previous centuries, but unless we are in medieval times, a six year old did not get married. Also, pay attention to the place where the marriage occurred. If your ancestor did not get married in their hometown, did it make sense for them to travel to the marriage location? On occasion, couples had to travel to a minister or a town where the marriage ceremony could be held, but did it make sense to travel to a place days away?
Many marriage records are on the major research sites. If you happen to be doing research in West Virginia, I highly recommend the West Virginia Archives and History Vital Records search. Their database includes birth, marriage, and death records.
Birth Records Review
If you need a refresher on birth records, check out my previous post!