Internet Genealogy: How to Confirm a Marriage When You Can’t Find a Marriage Record


US Census records will only take you so far in tying up the 19th Century relationships in your family tree. In 1880, almost a hundred years after the first US Census, relationships were recorded for the first time. Before 1880 it was guess work to figure out who was related to whom in a household. The 1900 Census introduced the question of how long spouses had been married which helped to determine when they were married.

Confirming a marriage can frustrate a dedicated family historian, the search is compounded by the lack of marriage records due to fires that burned court houses and record offices, and marriages that were only recorded in lost church registries, or performed by traveling preachers who didn’t keep records. Rather than relying on guess work or leaving a blank on a family group sheet I can suggest a trio of sources to confirm a marriage when an official record can’t be found.

Court Records: Court records can be a wealth of information. Lawsuits and wills can identify a spouse and may even mention the spouses’ siblings or other kin that can confirm relationships. These records may contain evidence of prior marriages, or clues the approximate date of a current marriage. My personal favorite of all court records are Divorces-they don’t even have to be your own kin’s divorce! I’ve had success finding affidavits in siblings or friends’ divorce records that confirm my own ancestors’ marriage date. Divorces at times occurred in counties different than where the marriage took place, so if marriage records were destroyed a divorce record in another county may still exist.

Civil War Pension Files: If a relative survived his service in the Union Army, the pension file index must be searched. The pension application process, especially when a surviving wife was the applicant, called for confirmation of the veteran’s marriage. The confirmation often took the form of an affidavit form or at times individual affidavits from people who knew the couple. The last pension record I requested contained an affidavit that told the marriage date, where it occurred, who officiated, and a description of an old traditional “shivaree” to welcome the newlyweds.

Google Books: With over ten million books scanned and available online at Google, you’re bound to find an ancestor in one or two of them! A search will turn up numerous genealogy digests and histories. The real treasure is in the biographies that gained in popularity around the mid 1870’s to the beginning of the 20th century. Some of these books were written as the nation became interested its history around the time of the centennial, while others were “vanity” biographies that prominent citizens purchased because their own history was included in the book. The biographies are usually first-hand accounts of the subject’s heritage, thus a reliable source to quote in documenting a family tree.