vintage wedding photo. just married couple circa 1910. nostalgic picture

As my family celebrates two weddings this fall, I’m reminded that these beautiful couples are not just extending existing family trees but, whether they realize it or not, also recording the first significant document in the one they may begin together.

I caution researchers to leave romantic notions behind when embarking on couple research. It may sound cold, but marriage prior to the nineteenth century was more often an economic partnership than a match made in heaven. You may find marriages of convenience (occurring mere weeks after a spouse passed away), arranged marriages (siblings in family A marrying siblings in family B on the same day), or multiple marriages (my great-great-great aunt outlived five husbands!). You may also find marriages that lasted sixty-plus years, so maybe some romance did creep in.

Marriage records are usually stored with the town or county where the bride and/or groom lived, but some—particularly early ones—may be housed in state archives. Records from more recent years are with the state’s Division of Vital Records. If you can’t locate a couple’s records where you believe they should be, check nearby towns. Marriage laws may have restricted a couple tying the knot in its own town due to age; perhaps fifteen miles away, parental consent was all that was needed for, let’s say, a twelve-year-old to marry. You may also find records of intent, such as marriage banns (public announcements of marriage intent), marriage bonds (written legal guarantees for upcoming nuptials), applications, or consent papers if the bride or groom was underage. 

These records contain details like full names, ages, birthdates, birthplaces, and occupations of the bride and groom, witnesses (often the closest people in their life), parents, time and location of the marriage, name and title of the person performing the ceremony (was it a person of faith or a justice of the peace?), and whether the bride and groom were single, widowed, or divorced. These small details can add up to paint a pretty good picture.

To find a church record of a marriage, identify the church your ancestor attended. Newspapers can be a helpful source; engagement and marriage announcements, as well as obituaries, within a family line may offer clues to faith, marriage dates, and places. You may find there were only one or two churches of a particular denomination in the area, which quickly narrows down options. Keep in mind that churches only recorded what they deemed important, so they will likely not include as much vital information and are less likely to be digitized. 

For extra fun, head back to the newspaper. A couple’s timeline begins with the engagement, but the wedding announcement might provide inner-circle information about a wedding shower or out-of-town visitors. My own parents’ engagement and wedding announcements are two of my favorite finds. 

Online, (free), ($), and ($) all contain large record collections. For the US, try (search by state), and for other countries, visit (search M for marriage). Happy hunting! 


Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits is a National Genealogical Society member, Association of Professional Genealogists member as well as a guest lecturer and freelance writer. Carol is also a board member and President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society. Send questions or comments to her at


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.