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How to Find Chicago Marriage Licenses Before 1871

Because of the Chicago fire, only a few civil marriage records exist before 1871. Sources for these licenses include:

Cook County, Illinois Marriage License Records, 1870-1880 by Leona Hopper Newbill (FHL Film 0848650 Item 2)

Some Cook County Marriages Prior to Fire abstracted by Joan L. Alguire (FHL Fiche 6050058)

Marriages from 1833-1871 found in the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index for Cook County are compiled from early Chicago newspapers. This compilation is known as the Sam Fink Index. A copy of the Sam Fink Index is available on microfilm at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

Alternate sources of information include:

  • Newspaper Notices

Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 (Ancestry.com; subscription website)
Sam Fink's Index to Marriages Mentioned in Chicago Newspapers, 1833-1871 (FHL Film 1321939; Entries from Sam Fink's marriage index are included in the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index). The index includes the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Evening Journal, Chicago Democrat, Chicago Evening Post, Chicago Record-Herald, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Examiner, and the Inter-Ocean.

  • Church Marriage Records

Catholic: Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic parish records have been filmed to 1915. Check the FamilySearch Catalog to see what's available. Do a place search for "Chicago" and then select "Church Records."

Other Denominations: See Newberry Library's Guide to Chicago Church and Synagogue Records.


How to Find FamilySearch Catalog #1321939 Cook County Marriage Licenses, 1871-1900

Step 1

Search the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index for Cook County are compiled from early Chicago newspapers.

If you find a matching entry, note the license number and proceed to Step 2.
If you don't find a matching entry, proceed to Step 3.

Step 2

Copies of marriage licenses up to 1900 can be obtained from Northeastern Illinois University at NEIU. You can also access Cook County marriage licenses, 1871-1920 through your local Family History Center or send in a request to the Cook County Clerk's Office ($15).

Please note that Cook County marriage licenses and applications did not ask for parent names.

Step 3

If you don't find a match for the license you're looking for in the online index, try one or more of the following:

Search the online index using only a few letters of the surnames. It's not uncommon for names to be misspelled.

Search the Sam Fink Index at FamilySearch Catalog #1321939 also available on microfilm at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

Check the online Chicago Tribune. Some Chicago newspapers published lists of marriage licenses issued during some, but not all, years. If you find a name there, but can't find it in the index to get the license number, check the index for a name just above or just below. The newspaper lists appear to be in issue-order and the license number can be deduced if can find one for another name on the list.

Check for the marriage in Lake County, Indiana (subscription index at ancestry.com) and in St. Joseph, Michigan (1832-1887 at Michigan GenWeb; 1889-1925 at Michigan GenWeb)


How to Find Cook County Marriage Licenses, 1900-1916

Step 1

Check the Cook County Marriage License Index that's available on microfilm through the Family History Library system. (1900 is also included in the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763–1900.) Both bride and groom indexes are available. If you don't find an entry under one, try the other.

If you find a matching entry, note the license number and proceed to Step 2.
If you don't find a matching entry, proceed to Step 3.
If you don't have access to the microfilm index, proceed to Step 4.

Step 2

You can also access Cook County marriage licenses, 1871-1916 through your local Family History Center or you can send in a request to the Cook County Clerk's Office. Also FamilySearch has the Chicago marriage and death indexes covers marriages 1833-1871.

Please note that Cook County marriage licenses and applications did not ask for parent names or birth dates or places for the bride and groom.

Step 3

If you don't find a match for the license you're looking for in the online index, try one or more of the following:

Check the online Chicago Tribune. Some Chicago newspapers published lists of marriage licenses issued during some, but not all, years. If you find a name there, but can't find it in the index to get the license number, check the index for a name just above or just below. The newspaper lists appear to be in issue-order and the license number can be deduced if can find one for another name on the list. Also FamilySearch has an index to Chicago marriage and death indexes

Check for the marriage in Lake County, Indiana (subscription index at Ancestry.com) and in St. Joseph, Michigan (1889-1925 at RootsWeb)


How to Find Cook County Marriage Licenses After 1916

Check the index at cookcountygenealogy.com. If you find an index entry for a marriage before 1921, you can access the record on microfilm available through your local Family History Center or you can purchase and download the record from the website. If you don't find a marriage listed, you can request a manual search of records through the Cook County Clerk's Office.


Alternate sources of information include:

  • Engagement and Marriage Notices

Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 (subscription database; available at ancestry.com; includes the Chicago Tribune, 1850-1985 and the Chicago Defender, 1921-1975)

  • Anniversary announcements
  • Divorce records -- Circuit Court Archives.

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  • This page was last modified on 25 July 2014, at 18:21.
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