Marriage certificates are among the best records when you’re searching for your family’s roots.
Among vital records (birth, marriage, and death certificates), marriage certificates often provide the most accurate information.
Birth information may be given when the happy parents are exhausted, elated, and eager to get back to their new baby. They often decide that the certificate is “good enough” and don’t proofread it closely.
Death information is given when the family is distraught with grief. As a result, it can be badly flawed.
By contrast, marriage certificates are often filed after the ceremony, by a priest or minister who has time to check the details, and a familiarity with the families.
The following information can be on marriage certificates:
- The bride’s name, and her parents’ names.
- The same information about the groom.
- Where the bride and groom were living, prior to the marriage.
- When and where the bride and groom were born.
- For a religious ceremony: The church where the couple were married, and the name of the officiating priest, minister or rabbi. (The name of the church tells you where to look for the church’s own records about the bride, groom, and their families.)
- Witnesses (usually at least two) to the marriage. They’re often friends or family members; this information can provide new family lines to research. (Note: When asking to see marriage certificates, if you have a choice of “short form” or “long form,” ask for the longer form. It’s more likely to list witnesses.)
- Information about prior marriages by the bride and/or groom. (Those marriage certificates can give you additional insights and information.)
Additional information can appear on marriage certificates. This is another reason to always ask for the “long form” if you aren’t able to see original marriage certificates (or photos/scans of them.) It’s always a bonus for research.
However, when a marriage certificate provides “family history gold” — such as an unknown sibling or cousin as a witness — they’re well worth the time it takes to find and study them.
Photo credit: Wedding rings photo by l4red0, Poland