Pennsylvania, County Marriages (FamilySearch Historical Records)
|This article describes a collection of historical records scheduled to become available at FamilySearch.org.|
Collection Time Period
This collection contains marriage records mostly from 1885 through 1916. Some counties include records up to 1950.
On January 12, 1852, the Pennsylvania Legislature enacted its first statewide law requiring the registration of vital records, including marriages. Probably due to lack of compliance, the law was repealed in 1855. On October 1, 1885, a new law went into effect that made it illegal for any “minister of the gospel, justice of the peace, or other officers, or persons authorized by law to solemnize marriages” to marry any couple who did not first obtain a marriage license. Since then, marriage licenses have been recorded without interruption with the Clerk of the Orphans’ Court within each county.
Before 1885, marriage records created by ministers, justices of the peace, and larger cities may still be kept by the originator, but the bulk of the marriages recorded in Pennsylvania are in this collection.
Counties in the state generally achieved 90 percent compliance by 1915.
No marriage records are included at present for the following counties:
- Union counties
- Lackawanna (before 1926)
No records are included for the city of Philadelphia and Philadelphia County. They are available as a separate collection.
Why the Record Was Created
Marriages were recorded to legalize marital relationships and to safeguard the interests of the wife and other heirs.
The most reliable information is the date and place of the marriage and license date. Other information is dependent upon the reliability of the informant.
Most of the records consist of marriage licenses, certificates, applications, docket books, and affidavits. Most are in bound volumes but there are some loose records.
The following information may be found on a marriage license that was recorded between 1885 and 1913:
- Full names of the bride and groom
- Birth dates and places of the bride and groom
- Current residence
- Previous marriage
- Whether or not the parties are related
- Date of the license
- Name of the father and mother
- Birthplaces of the father and mother
- Mother’s maiden name
If the duplicate marriage certificate has been returned, it will include the following:
- Names of the bride and groom
- Date and place of the marriage
- Signatures of the witnesses
- Name of official or minister performing the ceremony
How to Use the Record
Marriage records are the best source for the identification of a family unit and marriage event details. The records are a great source for the legal names of the bride (including her maiden name) and the groom. Other research clues may include the name of the officiator, ages, occupations, parents’ names, birthplaces, birth dates, residences, and consent statements. Anyone under age 21 was considered a minor. Obtaining a license when one or both parties were under this age required the consent of a parent or guardian. In that case, a separate form was filed which gave permission for the minor to marry.
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Sources of This Information
“Pennsylvania County Marriage Records, 1885-1950,” database, FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org); from Pennsylvania Clerks of Orphans’ Courts. Digital images of originals housed at various county courthouses in the State of Pennsylvania. Marriage records. FHL microfilm. Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
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