The marriage certificate is the only civil record that actually records a union between two individuals, whereas other marriage records indicate that a marriage was “projected or planned.” So be cautious regarding which marriage document is being reviewed and understand the difference.
Information you will always expect to find on a marriage certificate:
- the name of the bride and groom
- the date of the marriage
- location of the marriage (at least the county in which the marriage was filed)
- the individual who married the couple
- name of the clerk who recorded the marriage with the county
The type of information recorded on a marriage document will change over time and will vary from county to county and state to state.
The US Federal Census can also help with finding a marriage record. What kind of marriage information can the census provide? While the 1850 to 1870 census doesn’t record marital status, it does note if the person was married within the year. The 1900 through 1940 census will provide the marital status “married, single, widow, or divorced,” the “age at first marriage” (1930), or the “number of years of present marriage” (1900, 1910).
In our modern society (the 20th and 21st century), marriage records are typically kept at both the county in which the ceremony took place and the state bureau of records. There is a central gathering point in each state, typically known as the Bureau of Vital Records or Statistics (or something similar).
For most states, marriage records began being kept at the time a county was formed at the county level. These early records are not kept by the state, unless they have been transferred to the state archives.
With our United States: Vital Records course you will learn more about obtaining marriage records and the information they hold in your genealogy research.