Have you ever found yourself looking to get a copy of some marriage records? They can be terribly important in certain situations, like if you are getting a major loan or applying for a special status with the government, but the records can be a bit difficult to track down quickly.
Free marriage records are almost extinct today, though you can usually get copies fairly cheap.
Here is the basic scoop on how to find marriage records.
What are marriage records?
Marriage records are public information. State governments keep track of marriages in the same way that they track births, deaths, and divorces. There is a long historical tradition of government tracking marriage, though in recent years that has come under attack.
During the debate over marriage equality, for example, many people argued that the government should not be involved in deciding what type of marriage is acceptable.
In the past, the religious and governmental functions worked together. In 14th Century England, marriage licenses were granted by the local bishop or deacon.
This tradition lasted until the 1800s, when the government began offering civil marriages, meaning the government would authorize the marriage instead of the church.
In early America, marriage was usually recognized with or without a license. This was largely a function of America’s vast size and the difficulty of traveling during that time. The priest or county judge might be far away and only available at certain times.
By the mid1800s, though, more and more states were requiring marriage licences largely because of governmental benefits that came along with marriage.
States got even more involved for awhile, often requiring blood tests to check for diseases like syphilis. Blood tests and the like have been dropped as requirements, but marriage license records remain important.
Today, it would be hard to imagine filing taxes or getting a joint checking account if the government did not recognize your marriage. The marriage records have very limited information, though.
A typical marriage certificate just shows the names of the couple, who witnessed the marriage, and who officiated it. Sometimes things like the hometown of each spouse and their parents might be included.
Who has marriage license records?
If you want to know how to find public marriage records, you have to know where to look. They are generally kept by the State Secretary of State or the equivalent organization in a State government. County governments also maintain some, but their records are usually transferred to the state over time. Older records are usually kept in some sort of state archives system.
Today there are many private companies that are available to help record-seekers obtain copies. Some states make it difficult to obtain records in any other way. Perhaps the most popular of these services is called VitalChek.
According to their website, the typical marriage certificate will cost you anywhere from $15 to $40. Unfortunately, free public marriage records are difficult to find, though you may be able to make a copy from county or state archives for free.