How do you Find Marriage Records?

Marriage is a binding legal contract between two people and records relating to marriage are documents kept by the government or local authorities as proof that a marriage has occurred. Marriage records serve as a legal and official evidence of the marital union. In the U.S. the state has sole responsibility for making laws and regulations regarding the recording of a marriage, and these vary from state to state.

Marriage records are classified as vital records. Vital records are information on important life events including marriage, divorce, death, and birth, accumulated over a long period of time and kept in the archives of the state’s vital records office. The agency responsible for keeping such records and providing the public with access.

San Francisco marriage certificate

A sample marriage certificate.

Why are Marriage Records Important?

  1. Compliance to Law: Maintenance of marriage record is in compliance to local statutes. Each state in the US has a family law or code requiring the registration of vital records and provides the legal process for obtaining a marriage license and filing a marriage certificate. The States are also obligated under their public access to information laws to provide access to the vital records so kept.

  2. Statistical information: In many states, vital records, including marriage records are filed with the State office of vital statistics and used by many organizations, including governmental organizations, religious bodies, economic consulting firms and businesses as valuable data in statistical research and analysis of trends in the society. Records can be used to analyze population growth or decline, the pattern of living, stability of family life, market forecasts and more.

  3. Marriage records confirm the validity of marriage documents (license and certificate) presented as proof of marriage with any formal institution or private entity. The stamp and signatures of the authorized persons at office of vital statistics and the issuing local authority confirms that the document is not falsified.

Where to Find Marriage Records?

  • Online: In the past, the two main bodies that kept official marriage records were religious bodies such as churches and the state’s offices for vital records or their equivalent in each state. Today, information relating to marriage between persons is publicly registered and can be obtained online through verifiable websites like staterecords.org which provide easy access to the public records in full compliance with all laws relating to the confidentiality of certain information.
  • The state office for vital records (or its equivalent in the state where the marriage took place) provides access to the marriage records and issues official and certified copies of marriage documents to persons authorized by law to obtain them. However, the Minnesota Office of Vital Records does not record marriages.
  • Free public marriage records may be viewed on the official state website for marriage index or records of various states. Although marriage records are available to most members of the public, access to information may be limited to names of the couple, place and date of marriage, types of document available in the record and reference number for the document.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may provide information on marriages that occurred abroad. To find marriage records of U.S citizens that occurred outside of the U.S, a request may be sent to:

Department of State
Passport Vital Records Section
44132 Mercure Cir.
P.O. Box 1213
Sterling, VA 20166-1213

marriage wedding rings

Some northern Nevada counties use blockchain platforms as a storage medium for digital marriage records.

Courtesy Reno Gazette-Journal

What are the Types of Marriage Records?

Marriage records may provide information on the marriage ceremony and the names of the couple, the two officially relevant marriage records are the marriage license and the marriage certificate. Most searches for marriage records are usually conducted for the purpose of obtaining these two documents, most especially the marriage certificate. While both documents are vital records, they serve different purposes:

  • Marriage License: The official document issued by the appropriate local authority, usually the county clerk’s office, confirming two people are legally qualified and allowed to marry. The Marriage license is obtained before the marriage ceremony itself.
  • Marriage certificate is the certified vital record issued by the state as proof of a marriage. Usually, after the wedding ceremony, the couple and their witnesses are required to sign the marriage license as proof that a marriage ceremony was conducted in the presence of witnesses. The signed marriage license is then filed by the officiant at the office of the County clerk who registers it and mails the official marriage certificate to the couple.
  • Confidential Marriage certificate: Available only in California, the California Family Code authorizes the county clerk to maintain confidential marriage records which are not open to the public without a court order. The county clerk may only conduct a search to confirm the existence of the marriage without disclosing the date or any other information about the marriage.

Who can Obtain Marriage Records?

Anyone who has a basic knowledge of the county, date and names of the couple may be able to view a marriage license or certificate. However, marriage certificates are not absolutely public records. The information accessible to the public is general non sensitive information. The Law is stricter with who may obtain the records. In California for instance, a person may only obtain a marriage certificate if they are:

  1. Authorized: Authorized persons include one of the married couples, their parent, grandparent or legal guardian, child, grandchild, sibling, or domestic partner. An attorney appointed to represent the estate or a person/Agency authorized by statute or court to represent one of the married couple or their estate. A non -authorized person may only receive an informational certified copy marked “INFORMATIONAL, NOT A VALID DOCUMENT TO ESTABLISH IDENTITY.”
  2. A party to the marriage: Authorized certified copy which contains confidential marriage information are only accessible to the couple and can only be viewed by any other persons with a court order permitting them to do so.

The Laws in States like Florida and Alabama are not as strict on who may view or order for a marriage record. Under Alabama State law, marriage certificates are public records and are accessible to anyone who can provide enough information to search for the record and make payment of the proper fee.

What are the Possible Uses of Divorce Records?

  1. Change of name: A certified marriage certificate is required for changing from one’s last name to marital name or the other spouse’s last name, before the name is reflected on be reflected on important documents such as international passport, social security card, driver’s license, tax, insurance and bank documents etc.
  2. Acceptable proof of marital status: A person must present a bona fide proof of marriage to be recognized as the spouse of a named person by various government and private establishments when it concerns important matters like taking a loan to buy a house, filing taxes, joining the spouse to health insurance plans, etc.
  3. Immigration: Certified marriage certificate is one of the most important documents when filing immigration papers and application for a marriage green card with the Citizenship and Immigration Service.
  4. Probate: Proof of marriage may be necessary when applying for letters of administration in respect of the estate of a deceased spouse.
  5. Marriage certificate may be necessary as supporting documents for many other transactions that require proof of a person’s marital status.

What is the Cost of Divorce Records?

Cost for obtaining a marriage record varies from one location to the other. When obtaining the record online, the fees payable are usually displayed after an order has already been placed for the document. Some online platforms may also require registration or subscription fee and then offer certain information for free.

For states with centralized marriage record and statics department or organization, the cost for procuring a certificate or other marriage record may be determined by contacting the vital records office.

In Alabama, an applicant is required to pay $15.00 for a certified copy of a marriage certificate and $6 for any additional copy of the certificate ordered at the same time.

In California, the cost for obtaining a public record certificate is $15 paid by check or money order to the California Department of Public Health vital records.

Cash payments are not allowed in both states.

NOTE:If no record is found of the marriage certificate required, the applicant is issued a no-record found certificate without a refund of the money paid. It is wiser to provide valid and sufficient information.
bookshelf of files

The Umatilla County Courthouse houses several hundred thousand marriage records and deeds going back to 1862.

Courtesy EastOregonian.com

What Information is Required to Obtain Divorce Records?

Providing all or some of the following information may foster easier location and access for the applicant as well as the record keeper or the online public record service provider:

  • Full name of wife and husband
  • Wife’s maiden name
  • Date of marriage
  • County the marriage license was issued
  • Name of applicant and mailing address
  • Phone number
  • Applicant signature

To obtain marriage records, some states require the applicants to fill request forms and pay necessary charges while submitting the form online. The applicant may be required to fill necessary fields requesting for information that would aid in finding the specific records sought.