Was Your Ancestor’s Marriage Certificate Filed Late?

Everyone is familiar with the regulations that couples wanting to be married need to register and obtain a marriage certificate. This document permits them to be wed by a justice of the peace, minister or other authorized official.

Pastors Liable to Heavy Fines, Oregonian newspaper article 2 September 1906

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 September 1906, page 36

Perhaps less well known is the question: Who returns the signed and completed marriage certificate to the town hall or county registrar?

That was the responsibility of the minister or person performing the wedding.
But – sometimes they never filed the paperwork with the government, or filed it very late.

Enter Last Name

The Oregonian reported on this problem in 1906, reporting that: “In years gone by…many marriage certificates were never returned at all.”

The old news article went on to cite multiple examples of late filing of the documents.

article about Rev. Ghormley being fined for filing marriage certificates late, Oregonian newspaper article 2 September 1906

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 2 September 1906, page 36

For example, the Greenwood-Mitchell marriage certificate wasn’t filed until six years after their marriage. Cases like this can make it difficult for genealogists to locate their ancestors’ marriage certificate.

Genealogy Tip:

When you are searching for a birth, marriage or death certificate, remember: they are often filed in chronological order by the date that they are received in the clerk’s office, not necessarily the date of the event. Be sure to search for several years after you believe the event occurred to make sure you find the certificate. Registrars often received “Delayed Registrations” years after the event occurred.

Related Articles:

Love & Marriage: Newspaper Engagement & Wedding Announcements

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena shows how engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements in old newspapers provide a wealth of genealogical information to help with your family history research.

What should you be searching for when conducting family history research in newspapers? Vital record events are some of the most common newspaper articles about our ancestors, such as birth notices and obituaries. There’s another broad category of newspaper articles that is extremely helpful to genealogists: engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements. Falling in love and getting married can result in multiple articles rich in genealogical data.

Whether you are tracing an ancestor’s courtship, marriage, or wedding anniversary, you can find it in the newspaper. And once you find these news articles, make sure to carefully note mentions of family members, dates, places and other information that you can follow up with additional research in newspapers and other ancestry records.

Researching Courtship & Engagement

Engagement notices are a good example of newspaper articles with surprising information in addition to the names of the happy betrothed couple. Street addresses, former city residences, parents’ and other relatives’ names, occupations, alumni information, and pending nuptial dates can be found in these announcements. This engagement notice titled “News of Engagement Interests Society Folk” from 1914 would interest present-day descendants of these couples.

engagement announcements, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 3 May 1914

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 3 May 1914, page 14

20th century engagement announcements often included a photo of the bride-to-be. One good weekend project would be to find the engagement notices for more recent generations in your family to include in your genealogy.

engagement announcements, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 4 October 1931

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 4 October 1931, section III, page 3

A bridal shower for one friend may also be the perfect place to announce another’s wedding engagement. This unique event provides the researcher with information about those closest to their ancestor.

engagement announcement for Elizabeth Metzger, Plain Dealer newspaper article 28 August 1932

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 28 August 1932, page 33

Genealogy Tip: If you know the marriage date for an ancestor, don’t narrow your search to that date. You may miss an engagement notice printed months or even a year prior to the big day.

Tracing Marriage Licenses & Weddings

Don’t forget that you may be able to use newspapers to follow your ancestral couple from engagement to marriage license, and then from wedding to milestone anniversaries. In this 1927 San Francisco newspaper article listing vital record events, names of those applying for marriage licenses as well as those being issued licenses span San Francisco and nearby cities.

marriage license announcements, San Francisco Chronicle newspaper article 28 September 1927

San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), 28 September 1927, page 10

Genealogy Tip: Don’t assume that a marriage license means the couple went through with a wedding.

Newspaper articles about weddings can be full of surprises. They may include not only the names of the couple, their respective families, and details of the day – but they can also provide information about occupations and future residences. In this 1900 recounting of the wedding of Edmond Hughes and Edith Wakeman in Bismarck, North Dakota, we not only learn about the wedding but the character of the bride (“charming, accomplished and worthy”) and groom (“a young man of integrity and ability”), as well as where they will honeymoon, and then reside.

wedding announcement for Edmond Hughes and Edith Wakeman, Bismarck Tribune newspaper article 13 June 1900

Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota), 13 June 1900, page 3

Your Ancestors’ Wedding Anniversaries

How long was your ancestor married? If they stuck it out for the long ride, that accomplishment might be found in the newspaper. Typically, milestone wedding anniversaries like 25th, 50th or even beyond can be found.

What’s interesting about the following historical newspaper article is that it not only marks the occasion of the 25th wedding anniversary of Rev. E. N. Maynard, but notes that it’s the second time he’s been married 25 years. His first marriage “nearly 60 years ago” lasted 25 years and ended with the death of his wife. The Reverend then married again to Susan Paine “considerably his junior” and that marriage was now at the 25-year mark. What I love most about this article is all the great genealogical information found for both wives – including their names and who their fathers were – as well as the age for Rev. E. N. Maynard. Notice too that the article mentions that Maynard had no children from his first wife, but now has two daughters, a son and a grandson.

wedding anniversary announcement for E. N. Maynard and Susan Maynard, Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 29 May 1895

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 29 May 1895, page 5

Genealogy Tip: Newspapers may include articles about parties given to honor a couple for their milestone wedding anniversary. Search for these news articles to find mentions of out-of-town family members in attendance.

Some couples make 25 years of marriage look like child’s play. Consider this couple, Mr. and Mrs. Henry G. Lay, who were 100 and 99 years old at their 75th wedding anniversary in 1924.

wedding anniversary announcement for Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lay, Repository newspaper article 20 January 1924

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 20 January 1924, page 68

And of course once you’ve successfully been married for such a long time, people are going to wonder what your secret to marital bliss is. This anniversary notice from a 1938 Kentucky newspaper may sum it up best.

wedding anniversary announcement, Lexington Herald newspaper article 13 June 1938

Lexington Herald (Lexington, Kentucky), 13 June 1938, page 4

Be sure to search old newspapers for engagement, wedding and anniversary announcements when researching your ancestors – one more reason why newspapers are an essential genealogy resource for finding your family’s stories.

Related Articles:

Wedding Belles! How to Find Your Ancestors’ Marriage Records

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary provides search tips for finding your ancestors’ marriage records in old newspapers.

When romance is in the air, newspapers report it in many surprising ways. By searching old newspapers, you’ll find copious details about your ancestors’ engagements, rehearsal dinners and weddings!

photo of a bride in her wedding dress

Photo: bride in wedding dress, 11 September 1929. Credit: Infrogmation; Wikimedia Commons.

Newspapers Provide Shower & Wedding Details

You might even find old newspaper articles on wedding showers, such as this one from 1910, when Grace (Floyd) Kannaman’s friends surprised her with one. Even though the wedding had already occurred, they couldn’t resist more festivities.

They dined on frappes and wafers, while entertaining themselves with the games “Ring on the String,” “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button,” “Jenkins Up,” and a clothes-pin race. Color-coded gifts were accompanied by poetical dedications, and recipes were pasted in a blue-bound book to become her “infallible household guide!” What a treasure that recipe book must have been to receive – and a great family heirloom to locate if it’s still around!

article about Grace Floyd's bridal shower, Sedan Times-Star newspaper article 1 September 1910

Sedan Times-Star (Sedan, Kansas), 1 September 1910, page 1

Notice how the wedding of Mr. Le Grand C. Cramer and Miss Nellie Almy was described in the following newspaper article as a virtual feast of details. This lengthy historical news article names family members, bridesmaids, groomsmen, the officiant and even the organist – and you get to read about the magnificent pearl and diamond earrings bestowed on Nellie by her groom.

Her bridal costume “consisted of a very rich Velour white-ribbed silk dress with court train, the front breadth elaborately trimmed with flowers and tulle, and the remainder of the dress also elaborately trimmed with waxed orange buds and tulle.” There was a matching veil and extraordinary gifts abounded. An imported camel’s hair shawl was “very cheap at twelve hundred dollars” and of the solid silverware “there seemed to be no end, either in quantity or variety.” The article went on to say that “Those who ought to be good judges say that no bride in this city has ever received such a large quantity of elegant presents as have been bestowed upon Mrs. Cramer.” (I imagine that was an understatement!)

wedding  notice for Le Grand C. Cramer and Nellie Almy, Providence Evening Press newspaper article 17 November 1871

Providence Evening Press (Providence, Rhode Island), 17 November 1871, page 2

The elite are usually proffered prime newspaper coverage for their weddings – but even if your ancestor wasn’t a society belle, you’ll likely uncover intriguing details and descriptions of her wedding.

In 1897, this wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch reported that the church was “crowded to the doors” and that after the “knot had been tied, to be broken only by death” there was a “swell reception.”

wedding notice for J. C. Love and Hattie Upchurch, Gazette newspaper article 30 October 1897

Gazette (Raleigh, North Carolina), 30 October 1897, page 3

Ancestor Wedding Photographs

Don’t forget to hunt for photographs of marriage engagements and weddings.

Historical newspapers have always been prone to printing arrays of pictures. When you find weddings, you get a special treat – not only do you get to see the bride and sometimes the groom, but you also get a fashion show of earlier styles!

Genealogy Tip: As discussed in other articles on this blog, if you’ve got an undated photo, browse early newspapers to see if you can figure out the time period when similar clothing styles were popular. For example, read the article How to Date Family Photos with Vintage Fashion Ads in Newspapers.

Here is a 1913 photograph depicting a society belle with her groom. He was Frances Bowes Sayre (1885-1972), the lucky fellow who married President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter, Jessie (1887-1933). Her gown was magnificent – and if you search GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives for reports about their wedding, you’ll learn about the White House ceremony and their honeymoon in Europe.

wedding photo for Frances Bowes Sayre and Jessie Wilson, Evening Times newspaper article 29 November 1913

Evening Times (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 29 November 1913, page 8

This next photo example, from 1936, is a virtual collage of people – from the wedding party to family members and attendees. What a treasure it would be to include this wedding picture collage in the family scrapbook!

wedding photos, Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 9 August 1936

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 9 August 1936, page 8

Search Tips for Ancestor Wedding Information in Old Newspapers

I’d like to leave you with some search tips, and invite you to share your own with us in the comments section.

screenshot of GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

  • After exhausting these two, try other search categories. Occasionally you’ll find a honeymoon mentioned in the Passenger Lists category, or the unfortunate divorce filing in the Legal, Probate & Court category. Any of these can help with finding an elusive date of marriage.
  • Don’t forget to broaden date ranges when you do your newspaper searches. Engagement notices can appear in newspapers many years prior to a wedding. Although local wedding notices are usually printed not long after a wedding, out-of-town papers may report the wedding after a long delay. Even honeymoon stop-overs are reported when the happy couple visits relatives.
  • Research wedding legal requirements. An often overlooked query are banns, which had to be published prior to a wedding. This was done so that people could report concerns as to why a couple should not be married. The amusing anecdote in the following newspaper article showcases the process. In this instance, the groom had written to the church sexton with a request to publish the banns. Trying to be congenial, he concluded his letter: “So no more from your well wisher and Mary Williams.” This sexton unfortunately interpreted the man’s name as “William Wisher,” which was used in the published banns. Imagine the couple’s disappointment when they learned their wedding had to be postponed until after the corrected banns had been published!
article about wedding banns, Biloxi Herald newspaper article 16 December 1893

Biloxi Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), 16 December 1893, page 3

  • Many records kept by organizations are only available at the source. Go to your family’s house of worship to see if any canonical records can be searched. One example comes from my own family. I tried to order my parents’ marriage certificate, but it is lost. So Mom and I went to the church where they were married, only to find that the official wedding book had been lost. The church finally located a report in the monthly newspaper which verified the details of their wedding.
  • Learn about religious customs. An example comes from those with ancestors belonging to the Society of Friends (or Quakers). Many of their accounts make for interesting reading. Recently, I spotted reports where members were directed to observe weddings. The intent was to make sure the ceremony was performed in a manner appropriate to the religion. When it wasn’t, there were follow-ups as to how the marriage had occurred out of unity and whether or not a member took appropriate steps to restore the relationship with the church.
  • If you can’t find a family wedding notice in a newspaper, focus on the groom. Enter his full name, and follow up with a search using his given name’s initials. As seen in the Sayre-Wilson wedding photo above, the bride wasn’t even mentioned by name – and the groom only as “F. B.” Sayre
  • A related tip is to search for the bride or groom’s father. It’s all too common to read reports that “a daughter or son of Mr. So & So was married recently.”
  • Many historical newspaper articles will have headlines reporting just the surnames of the wedding couple, so try searching without given names, such as “Smith-Kline marriage.”
  • If your primary objective is to determine a date and you’re striking out as to the exact date of the marriage, look for anniversary notices and obituaries. Many will report that a couple was married on a certain day, or that they were celebrating a special milestone such as a golden wedding anniversary.
article about wedding anniversaries, San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article 26 September 1866

San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), 26 September 1866, page 3

  • From one’s engagement to the actual wedding, there are more steps associated with marriages than any other type of life event – so consider all of them as potential keywords. Browse the following list to find keywords that can be cross-referenced:
  • bachelor
  • banns
  • best man
  • betrothal or betrothed
  • bride
  • bridal
  • bridal party
  • bridal shower
  • bridegroom
  • bridesmaid
  • ceremony
  • civil ceremony
  • civil union
  • commitment ceremony
  • dowry
  • elope
  • eloped
  • elopement
  • engaged
  • engagement
  • engagement ring
  • fiancé or fiancée
  • flower girl
  • groom
  • groomsmen
  • guests
  • honeymoon
  • intended
  • intentions
  • maid of honor or matron of honor
  • marriage
  • marriage certificate
  • marriage license
  • married
  • marry
  • newlyweds
  • nuptials
  • officiant (minister, priest, rabbi, reverend, etc.)
  • proposal
  • ring
  • shotgun wedding
  • shower
  • spinster
  • trousseau
  • union
  • veil
  • vows
  • wedding
  • wedding party
  • witness and witnesses

Related Marriage & Divorce Articles:

Gin Marriages, Gretna Greens & Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains why gin marriage laws and Gretna Greens may have something to do with your ancestors’ marriage records appearing in unexpected newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s.

Where did you get married? Was it a town near where you lived? Did you run away to get married?

We often feel frustrated when we can’t find our ancestor’s marriage records in the most obvious place: the town they lived in. But let’s face it, not everyone gets married where they live. Maybe your ancestor chose to go to a “Gretna Green.”

What’s a Gretna Green?

Named after a city in Scotland, Gretna Greens are cities where couples run off to get married. According to the website The Gretna Wedding Bureau, Scotland historically has had lax requirements for marriage: a couple only had to be over 16 years of age and declare themselves husband and wife in front of witnesses. Because it was easy to get married in Scotland, people from neighboring countries flocked to marry there. Gretna Green was the first post along the route from England to the Scottish border, so it was a convenient wedding destination for eloping couples. Even today, Gretna Green, Scotland, continues to be a popular wedding destination.

There are Gretna Greens all over the United States. One of the most popular Gretna Greens is Las Vegas, NV. But even less glitzy places are popular wedding destinations for a whole host of reasons, especially places where couples can get married quickly without the requirement of blood tests, medical examinations or a marriage license. A Gretna Green might be the answer for couples who want to skip the hassle and expense of a traditional wedding and any disapproving family members.

Some people don’t want to wait to get married—for a variety of reasons.

Typically there is some time involved between the excitement of getting engaged and the actual wedding date. However, born out of a belief that those who married hastily, and perhaps while under the influence of alcohol, were more likely to divorce, some states enacted waiting periods between the time a marriage license was filed and the day the wedding could take place.

One state that enacted such a law was California. In 1927 California passed a “gin marriage” law. This law required a three-day waiting period from the time the couple purchased their marriage license until they could actually tie the knot.

Couples Must Give Notice of Bans, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 May 1927

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 May 1927, page 11

As with any good intention there were some unanticipated results with this marriage legislation. While the law stopped couples from marrying quickly in California, it drove them to nearby out-of-state Gretna Greens such as Yuma, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, where they could secure “quickie” weddings. During one year of enforcement of California’s marriage law, Yuma—then a town of 5,000 residents—recorded 17,000 marriages! During the years of California’s gin marriage law, both Yuma and Las Vegas became the hip place for Hollywood stars and everyday people to get married.

Government officials started becoming wise to couples crossing state borders to marry in states with no gin marriage laws. In reaction, more laws affecting marrying couples were passed. Some of those laws required blood tests to check for venereal disease, as in the following example.

Gin-Marriage Ban, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 30 January 1939

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 30 January 1939, section 2, page 4

Here is another historical newspaper article about a gin marriage law, this one in New York.

Gin Marriage Law Reduces Gretna Green's Dawn Rites, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 26 May 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 May 1938, section 1, page 11

This old newspaper article points out how effective the gin marriage law has been in curbing drunken couples from impulsively getting married in the middle of the night:

“At last the 3 a.m. marriage evil became intolerable. Dozens of young squirts with a snootful of bubble-water were wont to shoot to nearby Gretna Greens toward dawn, rout out sleepy but fee-hungry clerks and Justices, and become spliced before they had any notion what day it was, if any at all. This made dandy copy for the gaudier press, but it distressed the quieter element who still believed that marriages were not properly made in a tub of Scotch and soda.

“Jane Todd acted with her bill, and the law soon read that seventy-two hours had to elapse between license and the vows. Now a quick checkup reveals that it works fine.”

Can’t find an ancestor’s marriage record from the late 1920s or the 1930s? Maybe they decided to elope to a nearby Gretna Green. After all, who wants to wait when you’re in love?

Portuguese-American newspaper going online

Diario de Noticias 1919-1973 is going online at University of Massachusetts Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives.

UMASS Dartmouth is putting the backfile of the Portuguese-American newspaper Diario de Noticias 1919-1973 free online.

University officials also announced that they have set September 18 as the official grand opening of the Ferreira Mendes Portuguese-American Archives, which the University is planning to make the most comprehensive and accessible U.S. collection of the information related to the Portuguese-American experience.

The digitization project, completed by the Claire T. Carney Library’s Ferreira Mendes Portuguese-American Archives in collaboration with the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, will make the 84,010 pages from 16,641 issues of the Diario de Noticias freely accessible to the world.

Click here to search this newspaper.

“By digitizing these documents, we are now able to share this unique resource with the rest of the world,” UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said. “Thanks the financial support of the Azorean government, Luis Pedroso, and Elisia Saab — students, faculty and citizens from the SouthCoast to all corners of the globe, will have a major collection of Portuguese-American history at their fingertips. This is an exciting step in our development as the premier U.S. center of teaching and research related to the Portuguese-American experience which has shaped so much of our local and global history.”

Chancellor MacCormack also announced that the University will officially open the new archives facility with a major celebration on September 18.

Diario de Noticias was the most influential Portuguese-American newspaper of its era and the only Portuguese-American daily newspaper for much of that time. The newspaper was a critical independent voice during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1928 to 1968).

The Diario de Noticias, widely known at the time as the “Portuguese Daily News,” began as Alvorada Diária (Daily Awakening) in 1919, when Guilherme Luiz purchased A Alvorada, a weekly Portuguese-language newspaper published in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1919 it became a daily, and in 1927 the name was changed to Diário de Notícias.

João R. Rocha purchased half ownership in 1940, and then bought out the paper, becoming publisher and sole owner in 1943. The paper enjoyed great success and a circulation of up to 10,000 that spanned the entire region, and was also read across the country, where the Portuguese had settled since the nineteenth century, and even in Portugal. It ceased publication when Rocha retired in 1973.

Its local successors are the Portuguese Times and O Jornal. “The Diario de Noticias is an invaluable resource for the study of the Portuguese-American daily experience in the region and beyond,” said Dr. Frank Sousa, director of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture.

“In the advertisements and photographs we can glimpse the clothes people wore and the goods they purchased and for how much. There is news from the community not available in other newspapers, with reporting on local clubs, religious organizations, societies, businesses and politics. Weddings, births, and deaths are reported, providing a valuable source for social historians and genealogists.

“The goal of the ongoing digitization project is to provide the most comprehensive single source of Portuguese language newspapers published in the United States from the early nineteenth century to the present. The project is funded by the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, Elisia Saab, co-founder of Advanced Polymers, Inc.; and Luis Pedroso, president of Accutronics, Inc.

This newspaper is not on GenealogyBank.com

Search Old Charleston, SC Newspapers 1723-1975

GenealogyBank has set up a handy site for searching Charleston, South Carolina’s historical newspaper archive: 1723-1975.

Click Here to Search all of the newspapers here

Or click on the individual titles below to search a specific newspaper
Carolina Gazette 1723-1828
Charleston Courier 1803-1822
Charleston Evening Gazette 1785-1786
Charleston Mercury 1854-1859
Charleston Morning Post 1786-1787
Chronicle of Liberty 1783
City Gazette 1787-1842
Columbian Herald 1784 – 1796
Daily Evening Gazette 1795 – 1795
Echo du Sud 1801
Evening Courier 1798
Investigator 1812-1814
Oracle 1784 – 1824
South Carolina State Gazette 1794 – 1828
South-Carolina Weekly Advertiser 1783
South-Carolina Weekly Gazette 1783 – 1786
Southern Evangelical Intelligencer 1819 – 1820
Southern Patriot 1831 – 1848
Strength of the People 1809 – 1810
Telegraph 1795 – 1922
Times 1790 – 1820

NY genealogist featured in newspaper article

Lawrence Corbett, Watertown, NY family historian, has been researching since 1976 when his mother compiled their family history and published it in a spiral bound book.

He is the Corresponding Secretary of the Jefferson County (NY) Genealogical Society.

Click here to see the article about Corbett’s research experience and advice. The article appeared in today’s (4 April 2009) Watertown Daily Times (NY).

GenealogyBank has the Watertown Daily Times (20 Jan 1988 to Today, America’s Obituaries) and over 300 other New York newspapers.

Click Here to search GenealogyBank’s 304 New York historical newspapers.