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How to Find County Marriage Records

Have you every wondered about your family’s history or simply wanted to confirm the facts regarding a marriage? Regardless of your reasons for searching public marriage records—genealogical research, confirming the legal status of a potential mate, or searching for relatives—county marriage records may or may not provide the information you’re looking for. 

Generally, every state handles marriage records differently. Some states will designate county offices to hold copies of marriage records, and others will maintain them at the state government level. Following is a discussion on how to determine if you need to contact your local county office to find a marriage record, and the processes involved:

Finding the Correct Office



Most searches for county marriage records should begin online. Starting from the comfort of your own home can help to prevent wasted time in the wrong place and get you to the correct office more efficiently. Examine your local government’s website and perform a general search for “marriage records.” This should either direct you to the correct office’s webpage, or tell you where to go at the state level to find the necessary information. When records are held at the county level, they are typically found in the County Clerk’s or Recorder’s office. In some cases, you may be required to contact the County Archives office or department for very old records.

Some local governments will allow a general search to be conducted directly on their website, but this will only provide very limited information. However, searching to confirm that you are contacting the correct county, for example, can save you time in the future. This is especially helpful during genealogical research when you aren’t absolutely sure of the location of a marriage. If no record is returned on your general search, you may need to refer back to the state level or try a different county.

Types of Records Found



Depending upon what information you need and how county marriage records are handled in your search area, you may find a variety of methods of storage and retrieval for any record of marriage. This may include microfilm records, original copies of marriage certificates, local church records or simple indexes providing only general information. Much of this aspect of your search will be determined by the date or year the marriage took place.

Most searches for a marriage record, once you are sure you’re searching in the correct locale, should start with looking at an index listing. These indexes are filed by year and will list the bride and groom’s names and date of marriage, and a page or volume number to find the actual record.

Next, this information is used to find the actual marriage record either in a hardcopy format or on microfilm. Every county office handles this storage situation differently. They will often only hold the past 20 or so years’ worth of marriage records, and leave the older copies in an archive or store it on microfilm. Many of these records have yet to be converted into an electronic format, so they typically must be researched in person at the courthouse.

Another possibility is local church records held at the courthouse. Many Recorder’s offices will have a collection of marriage records from the churches in the area. If this is the case in your county, you’ll most likely need to know the church’s name, the name of the bride and groom, and the date of the wedding. This simply provides another option for searching records when limited information is available.

Copies and Fees



Usually, a nominal fee is associated with gathering photocopies of marriage records and information you find useful at the local county courthouse. Even if you have the option to order records online, you’ll often be required to send a money order and written request for copies. This is to compensate the staff for time spent searching for the record for you, and costs associated with making any photocopies you desire.

If you’re ordering or asking for a certified copy of a marriage record, these fees may increase. Certified copies are printed on special paper and completed with an official seal and signature from the office in which it is held. These types of copies can be used for legal purposes such as name changes, claiming life and disability insurance benefits, claiming retirement benefits of a spouse, or even seeking a divorce or dissolution. If you are not one of the parties named on the record, you must be able to prove you are a party with a direct interest or relationship to the couple. This includes children, parents, siblings, grandparents, legal guardians and legal representatives.

Exceptions



Generally, a search for county marriage records will provide the information you need for your research or legal needs. However, there are some special circumstances in which you may be unable to retrieve the necessary documents to confirm or deny a legal marriage. 

These exceptions include that some records are ordered sealed by a court of law, protecting the identities of the parties involved. This type of order is typically issued for privacy reasons, and can only be accessed by the direct parties named in the documents—unless you can provide a court order to release them to you.

Another reason you may be unable to access the correct record is that some state and county offices may not even hold the records from specific years. Many times, this problem is only found when you are searching for extremely old marriage records. 

Reasons for records from certain years being inaccessible include a fire that possibly destroyed the building and files in the past, or poor recordkeeping practices by the local government. More recent records are usually held in electronic format as well as in backup files, so the possibility of this happening to your marriage record is greatly reduced.

What You’ll Likely Find in the Marriage Record



If you are granted a certified copy of a county marriage record, you’ll see the full names of the bride and groom, the names of witnesses and the name of the official who conducted the civil ceremony. More recent county marriage records may include the home address of the couple, their occupations and their parents’ names. Uncertified copies, however, will limit the amount of this personal information you’ll be able to access.

When searching for a marriage record, if you know the county where it took place, should begin at the county level. Any questions about the accuracy of your location information will quickly be answered as you search using the bride’s and groom’s names and the date they were married. 

You may be referred to a different office or directed to the state level to find what you’re looking for, but some digging will be required to confirm you’re searching in the right place. These county marriage records are very useful in a variety of legal and research roles, and typically are more than enough for you to confirm your great-great-grandmother really was married to the mayor all those years ago.





 

 

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