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Finding a Marriage Date
by Karen Clifford, AG

Are you looking for a marriage date for your ancestor? A marriage date is usually found on the marriage certificate itself, or a duplicate copy which was given to the couple when they presented their license and were married (that one may be found among family papers). An even more valuable source for the genealogist is an original application for a marriage license. Together these two records could contain the names of parents, dates and places of birth of the bride and groom, relatives who appeared as witnesses or bondsmen, places of residence, and clues to religious affiliation (which could lead to church records of children, burial records of other family members, etc.).

Vital Records Offices. A copy of the original marriage certificate may be obtained by writing to the vital records office in the state where the couple was married. Addresses for the state vital records offices may be found in several sources such as The Genealogist's Address Book1 and in the International Vital Records Handbook2. Both are now available on CD-ROM and in published format through the Genealogical Publishing Company3. They may also be ordered through the Family Tree Maker Web site. The addresses may also be found in The Handy Book for Genealogists published by Everton Publishers4. These books are often available at libraries because of their universal appeal but older editions may have out-of-date addresses.

Early Marriage Record Sources. Did you know that marriage information could also be found in a variety of other ways? For example, some early marriage records have been indexed, printed, and made available in many ways including electronic CD-ROM format.

January 15, 1997

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Printed Sources. Many statewide marriage publications are in book form. For example, in the book 35,000 Tennessee Marriage Records and Bonds 1783-1870 (Vol. 1, A-F, Edited by: The Rev. Silas Emmett Lucas, Jr. and Mrs. Ella Lee Sheffield, Copyright 1981), are marriage bonds and marriage records located in the index card file at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. It is arranged alphabetically in list format and covers the period 1783 to about 1870. Similar publications are available from genealogical societies in many local research areas are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and other major genealogical or state historical libraries.

Electronic Sources. Several Family Tree Maker CD-ROMs contain statewide marriage records and indexes including those for the states of Georgia, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, these are mainly prior to 1850. Once you have located your ancestor on these indexes, you should always obtain a copy of the original document in order to find other clues which the original might contain (such as the religious affiliation of the couple which could lead to church records of children, burial records, and other documents). The majority of the marriage records indexed on Family Tree Maker CD-ROMs may be found through the records of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and its corresponding family history centers around the world. For a list of local family history centers near you, write to the Family History Department, Family History Service Center, 15 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84150.


CD-ROMs can be a convenient way to locate marriage information.

The IGI. The International Genealogical Index® 5, commonly known as the IGI, is part of the FamilySearchTM computer database of the Family History Library. It is the largest single database of marriage records. It covers an enormous collection of Great Britain, Germanic, and Hispanic data as well.

Alternate Sources for Marriage. Sometimes the courthouse burned or your ancestor's record was not found among others in the same area. There are other ways to find the marriage date. For example:

  1. The application for a marriage license (which has been around since the mid 1800s) may give other information in addition to the marriage date. For example, modern applications indicate that a couple is free from disease and not related too closely while earlier applications listed family relationships, ages, residence, etc.
  2. Sometimes permission had to be given, usually by a parent or guardian, for an individual (often underaged) to be married. Consent affidavits deal with transcripts of permissions slips given to the licensing authority at the time the couple intended to be married, or when bonds were posted, banns published or licenses issued. They are a valuable source for identifying parents, proving whether the parents are deceased or living, determining relationships of guardians to marriage partners, and the age of the couple, among other things.
  3. A declaration of intent to marry was often required before a marriage ceremony could be performed. It could only be waived by obtaining a special license from the state or colonial governor, the county court, or another designated authority.
  4. An ecclesiastical custom during the 17th and 18th centuries which occurred in almost every state was a posted bann. This posting would give the people in the area an opportunity to step forward and submit any reason why the marriage should not take place.
  5. Bonds were usually paid by the father, brother, or some relative of the bride and had to be posted before a license would be issued. If some cause existed, or could be discovered, which would make the proposed marriage null, the person posting the bond would forfeit the money posted, offsetting the cost of any litigation.
  6. Intentions to marry were written, filed, and recorded with the county or town clerks.
  7. To protect her own property if she were to remarry, a widow could use a marriage contract. This was often done between well-to-do individuals in order to protect their individual interests in the property which each possessed at the time of the marriage. Many relationships have been determined using these records in unison with probate records since the marriage contract often does not provide the proof that the marriage actually took place.
  8. A marriage license was issued by a proper authority as a legal means of avoiding the posting of banns and intentions.
  9. Marriage returns, minister's returns and registration of marriages were all used to notify the court that the marriage actually took place.

When looking for marriage information, check for titles in all the above categories at your local genealogy library, major public library, or family history center as well as some alternate sources listed below. Marriage dates may be found in a many places besides actual marriage records including:

  1. Court Records,
  2. Legislative Records,
  3. Newspapers,
  4. Home Sources, and
  5. Private Collections of Family Papers.

So don't assume that if your ancestor was not found in one source that he/she wasn't in that area at all. In fact, many published sources were compiled from a variety of records and not just vital record registrations. One example is very apparent from its title alone: Georgia Marriages 1811 through 1820 Prepared from Extant Legal Records, and Published Sources (by Mary Bondurant Warren, Editor; abstracted by Frances H. Beckermeyer, Susan Jenkins, Jack M. Jones, Robert S. Lowery, Amy W. Sanders and Mary B. Warren and copyrighted in 1988 by Mary Bondurant Warren, Published by Heritage Papers, Danielsville, GA 30633).

So don't assume that if your ancestor was not found in one source that he/she wasn't in that area at all. Check a variety of sources.

Some marriage dates have been extracted from periodicals such as Ohio Marriages Extracted from The Old Northwest Genealogical Quarterly. And some are gleaned from military records such as the Revolutionary War Period Bible Family & Marriage Records Gleaned from Pension Applications Volume 14 by Chan Edmondson (Family History Library call number US/CAN 973 M2l V.14)6. In many cases the marriage license law did not go into effect until the early 1900s. Marriage records prior to that are difficult to locate, for example in the southern states, so we must rely on extant church registers or marriage bonds.

So the next time you need to find a marriage on your family, there are many more places to go. Happy hunting!


  1. This book by Elizabeth Petty Bentley [ISBN 0-8063-1455-9] may be purchased directly from the publisher or purchased through large book stores. Many Family History Centers (FHC), Genealogical Libraries or Public Libraries with genealogical materials may carry these and may also be available through interlibrary loan. AGLL, P.O. Box 329, Bountiful, UT 84011-0329, carries many genealogical books.
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  2. The International Vital Records Handbook by Thomas Jay Kemp [ISBN 0-8063-1264-5]
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  3. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1001 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21202.
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  4. The Everton Publishers, Inc., P.O. Box 368, Logan, UT 84321.
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  5. Also known as IGI, is available at all Family History Centers.
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  6. You can order the film by these numbers to any FHC for a nominal fee.
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About the Author

Karen Clifford is an Accredited Genealogist, an instructor in an Associates Degree program in Library Science-Genealogy and Computers at Hartnell College (Salinas, California) and Monterey Peninsula College (Monterey, California), and the Founder and President of Genealogy Research Associates, Inc. She has authored several family histories and textbooks including Genealogy & Computers for the Complete Beginner; Genealogy & Computers for the Determined Researcher; Genealogy & Computers for the Advanced Researcher; and Becoming an Accredited Genealogist.

Karen currently serves as Vice-President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and Vice-President of the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA). She is a member of the California State Genealogy Alliance, the Association of Professional Genealogists, the National Genealogical Society, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society. In 1998 and 1999, Karen served as Director of UGA's Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She has received several awards for her volunteer work in the genealogy community including the FGS Award of Merit and the FGS Outstanding Delegate Award.

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