Marriage records contain extremely useful information--most of the time. What many people may not realize, is that information about a marriage (especially in the United States) is oftentimes recorded in several different places. It can be recorded at a religious organization, on a local level, and also via a marriage certificate. It’s not rare that the information included in each one of these instances, can be different--each one revealing something more than the rest.
For example, I’ll use my grandparents Walter and Minerva. They were married on the 2nd of October 1954 in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio. My grandmother had her original marriage certificate, which was provided to her and my grandfather by their church after they were married. Certificates are usually issued to the married couple in the event that they need it to prove their marriage to someone else--if they wanted to purchase life insurance for example. These certificates were issued solely at the discretion of the religious organization, and weren’t required by law--but it was extremely common if not always the case, for the officiant to issue certificates in almost every case.
Here’s my grandparents marriage certificate:
As you can see, it gives some great information about their marriage. It shows my grandmother’s maiden name, the church they were married at, on what day, by what priest, and who their witnesses were. Witnesses are always important to research, because they’re often the ‘man and maid of honor’ and as such, were usually relatives or very close family friends. In my grandparents case, the male witness was my grandfather’s close friend Bob, and the female witness was my grandmother’s sister-in-law, Dorothy.
Marriage certificates were issued by the church using information contained in a master record. So, that means that the information on the certificate is also kept at the church somewhere else. This is done for obvious reasons: in case the certificate is lost, if someone needs the information in the future, etc., As is often the case, the church records tend to provide additional information. Here’s the church record from my grandparents at S. Procop’s in Cleveland:
Immediately, we can see that the church record had additional information that wasn’t on the marriage certificate my grandmother had. Here you can see it has my grandfather’s date of birth, his parents names (including his mother’s maiden name). It also has the same information for my grandmother, including the day she was baptized (grandpa wasn’t) and the Polish spelling of her grandfather’s name: Stanislaw Jurek.
You can retrieve many of these Catholic church records in Cleveland from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland
Now, you might be thinking: what if I don’t know what church my ancestor was married at! How do I find that out?
That’s a great question--and the answer is pretty straight forward. In the US, marriages had to be recorded by the local government in order to be legally valid. To do this, the couple would need to submit a marriage application. In Cleveland, this was done at Cleveland City Hall. The marriage application would indicate if the couple was married by a Justice of the Peace or if they were married at a church and if so, who the name of the clergy was. Once you have the name of the clergy, you can do some digging on Google to find the church associated with the individual.
In Cuyahoga County, marriage records have been microfilmed and are viewable online for free at Familysearch.org. Search the online catalog for “Cuyahoga County, Ohio” and you’ll see the listing for marriage records under “vital records.”
Now you might ask “ok, but none of these are indexed--how do I find the application I’m looking for?” Another great question!
The marriage applications are indexed--they’re just indexed separately. To find the application number, we need to find the individuals in the marriage index. Marriage indexes for Cuyahoga County are available online at Ancestry.com. I searched for Walter A Schultz and for a marriage date and place of 1954 Cleveland, Ohio. Several results popped up with date ranges. I selected one that seemed the most likely: one record that listed 1954-1956.
Here is what the index looks like:
You can see my grandfather’s name towards the middle, Walter A Schultz, and two very important numbers: first the volume number (485) and the page (application) number (528.) That means that the application was recorded in the 485th volume of marriage record books, on page number 528. So now, we need to go to the microfilmed volume and find the page number. For that we go to FamilySearch.org
As I mentioned before, marriage applications are filmed for Cuyahoga County and viewable online at Familysearch.org. Under the Vital statistics section, I click on “Ohio, Cuyahoga County, marriage records, 1942-1973.” From there, I can scroll through the volume listings until I find 485. Then, I open the records and navigate to page 528. And ta-da! Grandpa and Grandma’s marriage application:
This application gives us additional information. Firstly, the address of my grandparents before they were married, their occupations, and who married them. It is here that you’ll find out whether your ancestors were married by a member of a clergy or a justice of the peace. Unfortunately, if your ancestors were married by a justice of the peace, all the information you’ll be able to gleam from their marriage, will be their marriage application.