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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 Find Public Marriage Records

Public marriage records contain vital information about a couple, serving as a legal document to prove the validity of the marriage. These records may be found online or in local government offices, and may serve a wide range of purposes for either the couple themselves, or an outside party trying to gain more knowledge about them. Here, we’ll discuss the reasons for seeking out a public marriage record, what information may be contained within it, and where to find and request such a record.

Why Search for Public Marriage Records

There are several reasons one may need to find public marriage records. Some employers, especially government or military offices, may use public records of marriage as part of routine background checks. Insurance companies also frequently look for public records of marriage when either issuing a joint policy or paying a claim to a spouse. This simply insures they are paying a death or disability benefit to the correct person.

Other reasons may include the need to validate or invalidate either a marriage or divorce. If a former spouse tries to claim marital property, the defendant may need to prove they are no longer married with public divorce records. On the other hand, a spouse may also need to prove they have a legal claim to marital property and must have a copy of their public marriage record to do so.

Perhaps someone simply wants to double-check the facts before marrying a potential spouse, and ensure he or she isn’t legally married to someone else. Outside parties may also ask for a copy of a public records marriage license when launching a private investigation against an individual. Of course, public marriage records are ideal when conducting genealogy research or simply trying to locate long-lost friends and relatives, too.

Information Included in Public Marriage Records

When obtaining public records of marriage, there are a few pieces of information that are standard and included in these documents. Among this information are the full names of the bride and groom, their corresponding places of birth, and the date and location of the marriage. The location information may simply provide a state or city, or may include the specific name of a church, courthouse or beach.

If the public marriage record is for a more recent union, additional information may be found in it. The home addresses of the bride and groom, occupations, their age at the time of marriage, social security numbers, parents’ full names and mothers’ maiden names, official’s information who married the couple, and names and signatures of the witnesses to the ceremony may be included. This additional information generally varies according to the state and locale that files the record, as well as who is requesting the record.

Information Needed to Obtain Public Marriage Records

Depending upon whether someone is searching for their own public marriage records or those for someone else, different types of information will be needed to obtain them. If someone wants a record for himself, a passport, driver’s license, government-issued I.D. or some combination of these will typically be requested. Most government offices accept requests for public marriage records in person, or via fax or mail. Check with the appropriate offices and inquire about the methods they will honor.

When requesting a public record of marriage for someone else, the inquirer will need to specify a time period to search, as well as either the husband or wife’s name. If a specific year or place of marriage is given, this is even more effective in finding the correct record. 

Sometimes, finding very old public marriage records can be difficult. If you’re conducting genealogy research and need records that are more than 100 years old or for a very common surname, you may need to consult with your local historical society to gather more specific search criteria.

Where Public Marriage Records are Filed

Every local government is different when it comes to their laws and requirements for filing and storing public marriage records. However, it is typically either a state marriage records office or county marriage records where the civil ceremony took place that maintains these free public marriage records.

In order to find them, online searches may be conducted, and general sites or the direct government office sites can point someone in the right direction. Many offices maintain online databases that can be searched from home, which is ideal when the corresponding records office is located in another state or even country.

Depending upon the state, one of several different offices may be responsible for holding these records. Some possible departments to try may include the Department of Public Health, the State Registrar or Superior Court, and the Office of Vital Records. If the records are held in the county where the marriage took place, they are generally held by the County Clerk’s office.

A little research should lead you in the right direction to discover the appropriate place and way to request your own or someone else’s public marriage record. Whether you simply want to know more about your ancestors or need to conduct a background check, these records will provide both general and specific information to either confirm or invalidate a claimed marriage.



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