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Under The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, any person has the right to request access to public records: criminal records, arrests & warrants, inmate records, vital records & more.

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How to Conduct a Marriage Records Search

Marriage records contain information about a person and couple that may be advantageous for several reasons. Your own record of marriage may be necessary to conduct legal business such as changing a name or claim insurance benefits, and someone else’s records could help you find relatives or friends, or simply learn more about your ancestors. In order to conduct a proper marriage records search, you’ll need to start with the correct government offices and know some information about the parties involved to gain access to official paperwork that confirms or denies the marriage.

Was the Marriage Legal?

Before beginning your marriage records search, ensure you know the couple was legally married in the first place. Marriages that were not witnessed or did not file the appropriate paperwork may not even be considered viable by the corresponding government. This may simply make your marriage records search very long and arduous, so check the facts before trying to find something that may not exist at all!

Know the Facts

You’ll need to gather the appropriate information before attempting to conduct a marriage records search in your locale. Regardless of whether the marriage in question is yours or someone else’s, you need to know the state where it took place. If you know the specific city and county information, this is even better. 

Also try to learn the full names of the people you are trying to find in the search for a marriage record. If one of them has a common name like John Smith or Mike Jones, you may have a difficult time confirming you’re looking at the right record of marriage. Additional information such as the bride or groom’s place of birth, middle initials or names, or even their parents’ names can help narrow down the field in this case. 

If you’re searching for very old records associated with your ancestors, this additional information may also be necessary. This just means you may need to prepare yourself for wading through several records over a long period of time before finding the correct one. Some governments also may not even hold copies of marriage records if the union occurred more than 100 years ago.

Types of Marriage Records Searches

The most popular way to search for marriage records today is via the Internet. Online marriage records are generally searchable using the bride and/or groom’s name and the city and state where the marriage occurred. However, these general searches may not provide the detailed information you’re looking for. You may only be able to find the date that the marriage occurred to verify the union. 

This type of search is generally sufficient enough for general background checks or ensuring your significant other is not married, for example. This is also often called a free marriage records search, as most sites do not charge for this type of public records information.

If you choose to conduct a marriage records search in person, you’ll need to go directly to the source. Generally, a state’s Department of Public Health is granted the responsibility for filing and holding marriage records. The County Clerk’s office or State Registrar may also hold marriage certificate information. Many of these offices will grant requests submitted in person, or via fax and email. These options are ideal if you’re searching outside of your immediate area.

Who Can Search for a Marriage Record?

Anyone can conduct a marriage record search, as these are a matter of public information. You simply need to remember that if you are not a named party in the marriage, you won’t be able to gain access to personal information like home addresses or social security numbers.

Most state and county government offices can easily provide a certified copy of your marriage record for you. There may be a small fee involved for the copy, but this is what you’ll need to provide legally accepted documentation of your marriage. These copies are printed on special paper and include a seal and signature of the Clerk of Courts of State Registrar. 

You’ll need this type of copy to claim marital property or insurance benefits, as well as legally change your name on official documents and I.D.s. Certified copies may also be available to children, grandchildren or parents of the couple as well; these access laws vary by state. Certified copies will reveal further personal information such as birthplaces, occupations, parents’ names and mothers’ maiden names, which can be very helpful in the course of a genealogy research project.

Types of Marriage Records You May Find

In addition to accessing different types of information in a marriage record, there is more than just one type of record you can search for. First, you must understand the process of filing a marriage record with the state or county government offices.

When a couple wishes to marry, they are required to apply for a marriage license through their local government. Once this license is issued, it is valid for a specified period of time before expiring. The license is required to be signed by both parties as well as an official who legally marries them, and possibly one to two witnesses. This signed document is then filed to become a marriage certificate and matter of permanent public record.

During your marriage records search, you may find that your criteria results in a marriage license, but not a certificate. This means that the couple was granted a marriage license but never legally married. If this is what you find is the case with your marriage, you may want to research the reasons why. Many states will consider a marriage invalid if the signed copy was not filed correctly by the official. In this case, you may need to call upon your witnesses to verify the marriage took place, or get married and file the paperwork correctly once again.

Other types of records you’ll find may include divorce decrees, which are recorded after a legal divorce is granted by the court. This, of course, may also be your reason for conducting a marriage records search. Regardless of whether you begin your search online or on foot, the information you gain from your search can help you to claim property that is rightfully yours, change your name, or even determine where your family began.



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