Finding an ancestor's marriage record is high on a genealogy researcher's list. Learn how to find those marriage records and genealogy tips to help your research.
Genealogy Research,  How To Trace Your Family Tree

How To Confidently Find Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records

Learn how to research your ancestor’s marriage record confidently. Genealogy tips for determining when your ancestors got married.

What genealogy researcher has not struggled to find an ancestor’s marriage record?

Many readers share their  frustrations of trying to find a specific ancestor’s marriage record or other proof of the ancestor’s marriage.  I am right there with you.

There continue to be ancestors in my family tree for whom I have not yet found a proof of marriage.

You are left wondering if your ancestor actually got married. Or if there is a “secret” or strange set of circumstances surrounding the marriage.



Let’s just not admit defeat yet, until we have looked at all of our options.

Note: This is the first in a 2 post series on researching your ancestor’s marriage records. Part 2 of How to Confidently Find Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records can be found HERE.

Black and white wedding photo of couple form the late 1800's

Before You Even Start The Search For You Ancestor’s Marriage Record….

As with other types of records (i.e. birth, death, etc) be familiar with what the law required of your ancestors in regards to marriage.  What were your ancestors required to do to get married? What type of record was required?  Also, what was the typical custom of the day in your ancestor’s particular community and/or religious affiliation.

For example, in Virginia prior to 1853, marriages were recorded by the ministers and county clerks. The minister sent his records of marriage to the county clerk. In many areas, this was done only every few months or even once a year.  Compliance was inconsistent on the ministers’ part and so, it is understandable how your ancestor’s marriage might  not found in the record.

In 1853, the General Assembly passed a law for statewide recording of marriages.  If your ancestor married before 1853 in Virginia, there is no reason to search for a marriage record at the state level.  Search for the marriage record at the county level or church level. After 1853 in Virginia, you can search for a marriage record at the state level, too.


Golden Nugget Tip:  Save time and frustration! Do not skip learning about the types of records your ancestors would have created in a specific time and location. 


Types of Marriage Records

Marriage records can be divided into two basic types:

  1. Intent to Marry
  2. Actual Marriage


Intent to Marry records indicate a bride and groom’s intention to get married.  This type of record’s purpose was to ensure there was not legal or religious reason the couple could not marry.   Impediments to the records could include: one of the couple was already married or the couple was related too closely.

Banns – Marriage Banns (Bans) were a part of the Christian parish church and were typically associated with the Anglican and Catholic churches.  The banns were read for three Sundays in a row, and if there was not objection, the couple was then able to marry.

Bonds – The marriage bond was a bond by the groom and co-signed by a bondsman that there was no legal reason the intended marriage could not take place. Technically, a marriage bond only indicates the intent of a marriage and not proof that the marriage took place. (Note the bondsman (bondmen) named on a marriage bond.  These individuals were frequently family members. )

Finding your ancestor’s marriage bond is always a genealogy “win”, but I always want “more” than the basic information they provide.

1828 marriage bond between Machen Seagraves and Burges Woods
Woods-Seagraves North Carolina Marriage Bond

Marriage License or Marriage Registration

Eventually, the marriage license replaced the common use of marriage bands and bonds.  Marriage licenses are fantastic records for the genealogist.  These often provide more information about the bride and groom than on the banns or bonds.  For example, the couple’s parents may be named, where they lived,  their occupations, etc.

While intent of marriage records do not show the actual marriage took place, using them in conjunction with other records (census records, wills/estates, etc) where husband and wife are mentioned will support the marriage took place.


These are your ancestor’s marriage records that were created when the marriage took place.

The Personal Records of the Couple – The couple often recorded their marriage in a Family Bible.  Check with family members and see if one exists.  The couple’s marriage may be  recorded in a Bible they start when they began keeping their own home or may be found in the Family Bible of a parent or sibling. Refer to How to Determine the Birth Date of Your Ancestors for places to search for the family Bible.

Harward Family Bible page documenting marriages in the 1850's and 1870's
Harward (Howard) Family Bible Marriages

Tip: Do not assume a Family Bible does not exist just because one was not passed down through your family. Reach out to distant relatives and collateral line researchers for possible leads to a Family Bible.

The Marriage Certificate – This was retained by the couple, but the county clerk often retained a copy. When asking family members about the family Bible, ask them about family records retained within the family.

Personal copy of marriage certificate between Lester Howard and Cecile White in 1938
Marriage Certificate– Lester and Cecile Howard

Registers (or Returns) – The county clerks often recorded marriages for their county in a register.  The couple’s name, marriage date, witnesses and who performed the marriage are usually included.  These are often found at the county courthouse or state archives as well as online databases such as FamilySearch, MyHeritage, or FindMyPast.

This is an example from the Halifax County, Virginia Register of Marriage for the marriage of S.C. Haley and Mary A Tribble. Notice the couple’s parents are listed on page 2!

S. C. Haley - Mary A. Tribble Halifax County, VA Register of Marriage Entry
S. C. Haley – Mary A. Tribble Halifax County, VA Register of Marriage Entry (page 1)
S. C. Haley - Mary A. Tribble Halifax County, VA Register of Marriage Entry - second page showing names of parents
S. C. Haley – Mary A. Tribble Halifax County, VA Register of Marriage Entry (page 2)

Church or Religious Records – If your ancestor was married in a house of worship, the church may have recorded this in their records.  Personally in researching, I have not found these in the small rural churches, but find them in the Catholic and Anglican parish records more often.

1883 marriage photo of couple with man sitting and woman standing - White text reading How to Confidently Research Your Ancestor's Marriage Records.
Pin for Future Reference!

Where To Find These Types of Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records

  1. County level records – Look for marriage licenses, registers , bonds and minister’s returns in county records.  These may be at the county courthouse and/or in the state archives.  Various collections can be found in online databases such as, , MyHeritage or
  2. Parish records – Look for the marriage bann records here. Check state archives as well as the online databases.
  3. Family records – Don’t forget to ask your family (even the distant ones!) for a family Bible and/or old family records.

Read Part 2 of How To Confidently Find Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records .

Wedding party from early 1900's standing outside home. Black and white photo

Share you success in searching your ancestor’s marriage records in the comments!

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More Genealogy Goodness!


  • Ron Courtney

    I have a humorous story about finding a relative’s marriage record. My wife’s maternal aunt was only 16 when she married her 25-year-old husband. She had often told the story of how she forged a permission slip giving her mother’s consent for the marriage.

    One day during a visit to her house that subject came up again and she said to those gathered there “I wonder if that little note still exists.” Being the amateur genealogist that I was and still am, I secretly contacted the Rabun County, GA offices (Rabun County, GA was a common wedding place for couples in Western North Carolina) & inquired about their marriage records & any related documents. Lo and behold the note was still in the file, so I ordered copies of all the documents. I had planned from the beginning to give the note to the aunt & uncle on their upcoming anniversary, excited to see their reaction.

    When the anniversary arrived several of us were gathered at their house at which time I presented my surprise. The aunt was quite thrilled & amused until her oldest son, the jokester in the crowd, turned to his younger brother and said, “Gosh, does that make you & me illegitimate?”

    At that point this elderly Victorian & very private aunt got mad & said that this subject was not to be discussed again. She turned to me & asked how I would like it if she went to the local courthouse & asked for my divorce papers from my 1st marriage to see why my wife divorced me. Obviously I was on her bad side for quite a while, but fortunately she has since let it slide though the subject has never again been mentioned. By the way, I kept my own copy of everything I got from Rabun County!

    In the words of one of my former bosses, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    • LisaL

      Ron, what a great story! So glad your forgave you. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure other readers will enjoy this, too.

  • cindy

    several years ago I had an account and one of the first things I found was my parents marriage application? with a note from my mom’s father giving permission, she was 15 and he was 23. I had no clue what I was doing and did not save it. I can’t find it now, though my niece just had her dna done and said she saw it on but she did not save it either and now she can’t find it. I see the vital records, but looking for the note. Did ancestry remove the records? Did privacy laws change for the state of California?

    • LisaL

      Cindy, I am going to have to check into that. It’s possible that states can change their privacy laws, but I’ll have to check into CA.

    • Janelle Holmes

      It may have been an image submitted by a user for her family tree and that’s why you’re not finding it. DO a search on Public Family trees under their names and you might find it that way or a search of images.

  • Debbi Klem

    I hve been searching for my grandparents marriage record for well over 15 yrs without success. Her name was Kathleen E Haas and he was Jay F. Kistner. She was under age for Ohio, I think. Her birthday was Feb.8, 1915 or 16 and they supposedly got married around her 15th birthday.I’ve looked at Feb 8, a931-1933 because my mom was born July 29th 1932. Jay was born May 9 or 27th, 1899. I’ve checked Ohio and Michigan and Indiana, with no success.

    • LisaL

      That’s a tough one! If you haven’t already, try changing the search parameters to use on the surnames and/or search only using the first names. I’m wondering if the spelling and subsequent transcription may be keeping it hidden. For example, search for all Kathleens married within your dates of interest for a location. It can be tedious, but helpful.

      • Linda Hunt

        Yes, vary the spelling of all the names. My relatives had the surname of Crouch. I knew where they were married, and there were no special circumstances like underage or burnt records. I painstakingly went through all the records of marriages in that county for a year. I found the surname Cronch with all the other correct info. I wrote to the digitizing company about transcription error. No. They showed me the original. The original really did say Cronch. I spent another day looking through every town in the county for any Cronch family. Never found one. I concluded the person who originally wrote the license got it wrong!

        • LisaL

          Linda, yes, the creator of a document could get things wrong as you discovered. Great work on checking all those records before coming to your conclusions.

  • Cathy

    My Mom was close to 50 years old and she never knew when her parents got married. She even asked my Grandma’s Mother who just grinned and said “I don’t know”. My grandmother just said she didn’t know. So, Mom went to the court house and got the information. It turned out my grandparents were married in September and my Mom was born in November in 1922. HAHA But, my Mom had a surprise 50th wedding anniversary for my Grandparents anyway. They loved the celebration. They made it to their 60th before my grandfather passed away.

  • Lori

    In the state of Nebraska (where most of my early family) is from. … can not get a copy of a marriage, birth or death certificate unless it is you, your spouse or your parents. I was trying to get clearer, clean copies of those certificates because I find that the ones you can find on and others are often not very clear or clean. My cousin and I are trying to put together a book of family history and will have it self published just for our immediate families. We want good copies so that they will look good in the final book.

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