Genealogy Basics: Marriage Certificates

Today we’re continuing to talk about vital records.  Last week we talked about birth certificates and some of the information you can find on them.  This week we’re going to talk about marriage records.

If you’ve been married you know how obtaining a marriage license works.  You fill out an application, get the license, the ceremony is performed, license is signed and returned to the state office to be filed.  At some point in time, some genealogist, somewhere in the world realized how great of a resource these documents were.  Most of the information you’ll find will be located on the actual application for the marriage license.  Let’s take a look at what kind of information we might find on a marriage license:

  • Full name of bride
  • Full name of groom
  • Date of marriage
  • Location of marriage
  • Name of officiant
  • Names of witnesses
  • Birth date of bride
  • Age of bride
  • Birth date of groom
  • Age of groom
  • Age of groom
  • Whether single, widowed or divorced for each party
  • Number of previous marriages for each party

God bless the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds because they’ve digitized their records and have made them searchable.  I was able to locate a copy of the marriage record of my great-grandparents just by going to the Recorder’s website.  Below is a copy of the application for their license.  As you can see it lists some, but not all, of the information from the list above.  Keep in mind, different states had different information requirements for their vital records but some of the information is standard across all states, so what information Missouri requests on their applications may be less information that what you might find on the application from, say, Illinois.

Application for marriage certificate for
Edward Conwell, Sr. and Zella McCabe

Another important point to remember: while the majority of licenses filed for were used by the couple, there were instances where the couple filed for the license but never held the ceremony and, therefore, were never legally married.  Marriage licenses expired if they weren’t used within a certain time period.  Keep this in mind if you find the application but never find the filed certificate.  I was happy to discover that Edward Sr. and Zella’s marriage license had been used and filed and was included with the application when it was digitzed.  Below is the copy of their marriage certificate:

Marriage certificate for Edward Conwell, Sr. and Zella McCabe

So just from this record I was able to learn the names of the bride and groom, their ages, when they were married, who married them, and where they lived when they applied for the license.

Typically these records have not been digitized and have to be requested from the state or county where the marriage occurred.  There is usually a fee attached and the fee typically covers the search time and a copy of the record if it’s found.  Marriage certificates may look different from state to state but the basic information is standard across the states.

Now for an interesting bit of information I discovered after I found this marriage certificate: I learned that my great-grandma Zella was living in Wyandotte County, Kansas when she married my great-grandpa.  I always thought they were both living in Jackson County, Missouri.  Yay for new and interesting finds!

Tune in next week for information on death certificates!

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