November 1, 2019
Marriage records are the bedrocks of genealogical research; they provide information on the founding of a new family and are often one of the only ways to discover a woman’s maiden name and thus enable research further back on that female line. Because of their importance, marriage records, which include both license applications and certificates, have been extensively indexed, making finding the records themselves much easier to access.
Because marriage records are typically kept at a county level, local historical and genealogical societies have created indexes to them in many areas. For example, LCGS created marriage record indexes for Larimer County starting at the inception of the county and continuing until 1950 and placed those indexes on their website for genealogists to use at no cost. In some states, such as Minnesota’s MOMS (Minnesota Official Marriage System) index, states have compiled their county indexes to made finding statewide marriage records simpler. Other places to check for indexes include Family Search’s free site and pay-for-view sites such as Ancestry and Find My Past.
Some genealogists stop once they have found an index entry for a marriage, but this is not a good idea since copies of the original records often contain more information than is shown on the index. For example, marriage license applications frequently contain the ages of both the bride and groom and even the names of each party’s parents. In fact, a marriage license application is usually a more informative document than a marriage certificate, so if a choice must be made, opt for the application not the certificate. If an index entry has been found for a marriage, it is a simple matter to obtain a copy of the relevant documents. Indexes contain the date of the marriage as well as the book and page where the document was originally found at the county courthouse. Before contacting a courthouse, be sure to look at Family Search’s online holdings, since they have digitized many of their marriage record collections. Often, the records of interest are available for free to download from home. If Family Search does not have the records needed, Ancestry and Find My Past are available at no charge to the public at a local Family History Center; both Fort Collins and Loveland have these Centers. Ancestry is also available at the public libraries in Loveland and Fort Collins, and records found can be simply emailed to a personal email account.
If none of the above online sources have the desired record, it is easy to contact the County Clerk of the county where the marriage occurred. Just Google “County Clerk” and the county name to get contact information. I have found that a telephone call gets the quickest response, but it’s easy to email as well. If you have found the marriage in an index, be sure to include the pertinent book and page since it makes it easier for the clerk to find the requested record. There will be a charge for the records. While some counties will accept credit cards, many still require that a check be mailed to them. Although visiting a county courthouse to look for records is an exciting and worthwhile excursion, it really is not necessary in order to obtain marriage records. I have never been allowed to search on my own for marriage records at a courthouse, and clerks are often busy with other tasks so that an unannounced visit may prove a nuisance and provide no better service than writing or calling. Also remember that older marriage records may have been transferred to a state library or archive, so a visit may actually be useless in obtaining marriage records.
The only major issue with finding marriage records is in cases where the location of the marriage is unknown. While marriage records are filed at the county level, with older records often sent to state repositories, actual marriages are not required to be performed in a county where either party resides. Someone from Fort Collins, for example, may choose to be married in Fort Collins, but may also choose to be married in Weld County, Boulder County or any other county in Colorado or in any county in any other state. This can make it difficult to find marriage records for some couples, but hopefully as more and more records are digitized and indexed, those long lost marriage locales will eventually surface.
Researcher/Director at Large