Learn how to make the most of your ancestors' marriage licenses with this 10-step guide.
Marriage licenses can provide genealogy clues beyond the date of the wedding. They’re typically issued by the county, parish (in Louisiana), or municipality (in many New England states and independent cities). The groom customarily applied for the license, which was valid for a limited period of time.
The minister, justice of the peace or other legally authorized person who performed the marriage ceremony completed the document with the date and his signature. In some places and time periods, witnesses had to sign the document as well. The completed document, called a marriage return, was then returned to the county or other issuing office. The document contents were copied into a marriage book or register, which was usually indexed by both the groom’s and bride’s names, and the original document returned to the couple. In some cases, however, the issuing office created a separate certificate for the couple.