Home > Guide to Marriage Records
There may be any number of reasons why you go on the hunt for marriage records. You may want a copy of your own marriage license to keep as a memento or to use for legal or personal reasons. You may be looking for information about a family member and need the marriage record to locate the name of the person’s spouse. You may also want a copy of that record to keep in your personal archive.
No matter what your reason might be for launching a marriage records search, the good news is that there are plenty of resources at your disposal today to ensure that public records search is a success. Whether you want to search for public records online or find the document the traditional way through the appropriate state office, there are plenty of paths to collecting copies of marriage records.
Types of Marriage Records
There are two basic types of marriage records available through most states today. The first is a document available to the general public, which contains basic information about the marriage, including the names of the bride and groom and the date and location of the marriage. The second type is the private marriage record. While this document may contain similar information to the public record, it will also carry an official seal of the state, which allows the document to be used for legal purposes, such as changing a name on a social security card. This type of marriage record is typically restricted to the individuals on the document or possibly their children.
In addition to marriage records, many states also keep public records of civil unions and domestic partnerships. The documents for these unions may be similar to the traditional marriage record, or it may be an entirely different document, based on the preferences of the state. Any restrictions on access to marriage records are typically enforced for these types of records as well.
Information Found in Records
The information found in marriage records varies somewhat from state to state. Each state is responsible for the design and content of the marriage license, although they are required to now maintain these records under federal law. In most cases, marriage records will contain the full name of both the bride and groom, the date of the marriage, and the location where the license was filed. The marriage license may be signed by the person who performed the ceremony, whether it is a minister or Justice of the Peace. It may also be signed by two witnesses, if that step is required by the state in which the marriage is held.
Locations for Marriage Records
Conducting a marriage records search may take you to a number of different locations, depending on where the state chooses to keep these documents on file. In many states, marriage records are held at the state department of health, along with other vital records like birth and death certificates. They may also be held at the county clerk’s office where the marriage record is on file. Older marriage records are more likely to be found at the county office or in the state’s archives. To find the specific location of marriage records in a state, you can check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provides the office and contact information for all the vital records in all 50 states.
Restriction to Marriage Records Access
Because marriage records are considered official documents that can be used for legal purposes, some states restrict access to these records for a period of time. For the first 25 to 75 years after a marriage is recorded, the only people who can have access to the official document are those on the actual document or perhaps the children of the bride and groom. Legal representatives of any of these individuals can also get the document with the proper court paperwork.
States typically offer a basic copy of the marriage document to the general public, which provides the same information but cannot be used for legal purposes. This is usually a good option for those conducting genealogy research that require the information, but do not fall within the official access guidelines.
Online Marriage Records Search
One of the best ways to locate marriage records today is through an online public records search. Online archive services allow you to find these records with just the name of the bride or groom. However, if you have additional information, such as the date or location of the marriage, the online search will be faster and more accurate. If you find the information you are looking for, you can often print free public records right on your own computer.