Marriage records — the most romantic of vital records — can provide a fascinating glimpse into the lives of our ancestors. While birth and death records show us the “bookends” of someone’s life, marriage records show us our ancestors at their prime, often at the point where they are just establishing their places in the world as adults.
This post is all about marriage records: what they are, how they can help with your family history research, what they contain, and how to find them.
What are marriage records and why do they exist?
Marriage records are official documents kept by the local religious or governmental authorities that report that a couple has been married. Like other vital records, the purpose of these documents is to keep track of the local population or community. In the early 20th century, as governments began to offer organized services and benefits to their citizens, it became even more important to have accurate and up-to-date information on the local population.
Especially when modern governments started introducing laws to protect women and children from harmful marriage practices, it became necessary to require couples to apply for marriage licenses to ensure that the couple is eligible to wed, in terms of age, parental consent, marriage status, and whether the bride and groom are related to each other.
How can marriage records help you with genealogy?
Historical records such as marriage records are invaluable for genealogy research because they give us concrete proof about the basic facts of our ancestors’ lives. They can help confirm what you’ve learned from older relatives you’ve interviewed, and teach you about things that happened from too long ago for anyone to remember.
When it comes to marriage records specifically, they can teach you the basic facts of the couples’ lives. The details you might find in a marriage record include:
- Names of the bride and groom
- Their birth dates
- Their birthplaces
- Their place of residence
- Their religion
- Their parents’ names
- Their parents’ birth dates
- Their parents’ birthplaces
- Names of witnesses, who may be friends of the family or additional relatives
What is the difference between a marriage record, a marriage certificate, and a marriage license?
A marriage record, as mentioned above, is the official record kept by the government or local authority that documents the marriage.
A marriage certificate is a document issued to the couple after the wedding to prove that they are married.
A marriage license is a document that authorizes the marriage of the couple before it happens. Couples in most countries are required to apply for a license before they get married so the local authorities can ensure they are eligible to marry each other and that there is nothing illegal or abusive about the marriage.
Banns of marriage
Another type of record relating to marriage is something called the banns of marriage. These are public announcements of the upcoming marriage of a couple, either in a Christian parish church or in the town council. The practice began with the Roman Catholic Church, which required it as a way to enable other people to raise any issues that might invalidate the marriage — for example, if the bride or groom is already married or are too closely related.
Fortunately for family history researchers, banns were not only read aloud, they were also often published in local bulletins. You may be able to find mention of the upcoming marriage of your ancestors mentioned in one of these bulletins.
Are marriage records public?
In some places marriage records are public and accessible by all, while in other places, they are confidential and only available to the people mentioned in the records. In other places, they are made public after a certain waiting period.
Marriage records in Texas, for example, are public unless they have been sealed by a court ruling. This is also true of marriage records in Florida. In Illinois, by contrast, marriage records are restricted and may only be viewed by the people in the record, their legal representatives, or people who have been authorized to view them by court order. In the state of New York, marriage certificates that are more than 50 years old are available to the public.
Can marriage records be found online?
Yes, absolutely! MyHeritage offers hundreds of millions of marriage records from across the globe that can be searched and viewed online.
How to search marriage records
Searching marriage records on MyHeritage is extremely easy. You can search for the person you’re looking for using the general search form and then narrow down your search to the Marriage & Divorce category, or you can browse the Collection Catalog under the Marriage & Divorce category to find the collection that interests you and search within that collection.
Simply enter whatever information you have on the person you’re searching for. MyHeritage’s smart search engine can identify nicknames and name variations, and even find records in other languages mentioning your ancestor’s name and translate or transliterate them back into your language.
Source: My Heritage