Search Marriage Records

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What is a marriage record?

Marriage records are public documents that list all the weddings that have taken place in a certain area over, in some cases, hundreds of years. Whether a wedding ceremony was religious and took place in a church or it was what is called a civil ceremony and was held in a courthouse or other venue, there must still have been a marriage certificate issued, and it is a copy of this certificate that is kept on file in local archives. Modern marriage certificates are also kept online and some of the older public marriage records have also been transferred to computer databases, in order to help people search online for information. Sometimes these people are genealogists, researching their family tree, and are trying to find out more information about their ancestors’ wedding, while in other cases members of the public are searching for more up-to-date marriage records, in order to try and establish the marital status of someone they know.

It takes quite a lot of legal documentation and lots of form-filling in order to get married. Before you can even go ahead with the ceremony most states require that a marriage license is issued. In fact, the first thing most wedding venues, whether religious or civil, will ask to see is the license, so they know it is OK to go ahead with the ceremony. In order for this marriage license to be issued by the local authorities, both people involved have to present a picture ID. This means that if you are then searching for information on that wedding at a later date, you can be very confident that the personal details contained within public marriage records are accurate. Even in Las Vegas you have to prove you are who you say you are, before they allow you to get married by Elvis! Both marriage licenses and marriage certificates are kept on file in state and county archives, so you can search on either, though in some rare cases a marriage license may have been issued, but no marriage certificate ever issued because the wedding did not go ahead.

Many people keep their own copy of both the license and certificate at home, not just for sentimental reasons, but also as proof that you are a married couple, or if the woman wants to change her surname. In this last case, most official organizations will ask to see the final marriage certificate or at least a photocopy of the document before going ahead and making the change. If you lose your own copies of the documentation, you simply need to get in touch with the local courthouse where you got married and ask them to send you another, though there may be a fee for this service. It can be much more difficult to track down copies of marriage records if you don’t know the two people involved or don’t know where the wedding might have taken place. Most states have their own online search sites, where you can input basic details and get the results back quickly, but there are also commercial sites which will search all the national databases for you – but which also often charge a fee. Some will tell you for free if a record exists, but demand a fee in order to see the full marriage record.
The actual marriage certificates vary in how they look from state to state, but they all contain certain vital pieces of information; the full names of the two people getting married (including the woman’s maiden name), their dates of birth and the date of the ceremony. There will also be the names and signatures of any witnesses and some marriage records contain information about where the married couple lives, such as their home town or even their home address. Most search sites will allow you to input any of these pieces of information, including the woman’s maiden name, to see what public marriage records exist.

Why search for marriage records?

A lot of people searching for public marriage records, whether online or in the courthouse archives are genealogists, looking for old marriage certificates to help them build up their family tree. But many people are starting to use the easy online searches to check out the marital status of a new partner, or someone they know. Perhaps a woman is suspicious that her new partner may be lying to her about whether or not he has been married in the past. Previously, the only option available would have been an expensive private detective or a long, difficult and potentially fruitless search through paper files. Now, simply by logging onto her computer and paying a few dollars, that woman can achieve peace of mind by finding out once and for all if her new boyfriend has been telling the truth about his past. Of course, the woman could also find out that her partner has been lying to her about his previous relationships.
Marriage records can also be a good way to try and track down missing friends and family. If you have lost touch with a loved one, you can search on many public records for their name or details, including marriage licenses and marriage certificates, to try and find where they are living now and to get in touch again.

How to search for a marriage record?

In order to search for a public marriage record, you can either head down to the courthouse and spend lots of time wading through files and documents, or you can carry out a quick and easy search online. Most states have put all their recent marriage records onto a computer database and some are even starting to transfer older records too. If you are researching your family history and are looking way back in the past, the records you need might not be online, but if you are trying to find out information about your partner or search for a long-lost member of your family, it is likely that the records you need will be available online.
Most online search websites are very user-friendly, and you will be prompted to enter whatever information you have to allow the system to carry out an effective search on the public marriage records. If you know, or have a good idea, where the marriage might have taken place then you can just use that state’s search facility. If not, you may need to use one of the commercial sites that pull together data from all over the country, but they will charge you a fee for their services.

Another way to find out if someone may have been married before is to search their local newspaper. Most marriages are announced in the columns of local publications and even the smallest newspapers also have websites these days. By searching for the name of one or both of the people involved in the marriage, you could end up uncovering the marriage notice. For some people, this information is enough, but if they then want to go on and find where to get a marriage certificate from, the newspaper article will have provided them with some helpful extra information.
You can always just head down to your local courthouse or county archives and carry out the search yourself, of course. For many people researching their family tree this is part of the fun, and using online search facilities is “cheating”. Although the staff at the courthouse has other things to be doing, they will be able to advise you on the best place to start looking and to give you some tips to help narrow down your search. Don’t expect them to do the work for you, though! It can be very satisfying when you turn up the marriage licenses or marriage certificates you were looking for a after a few hours of hard work.