As you may have discovered, census records provide us with some clues regarding our ancestors’ marriages. Beginning with the 1880 census, asking a person’s marital status became a standard question for census takers. In 1900 & 1910, they tell us the number of years our ancestors have been married. And in 1930 & 1940, they give us the age at which our ancestors were first married. All of this information provides us with clues about when and where our ancestors married. However, in order to get the full story, we must look to separate marriage records.
About Marriage Records in Indiana
The record-keeping for marriages in Indiana began much earlier than that of birth records. In most counties, marriages were recorded by the county clerk’s office beginning with the formation of that county. In some areas, marriages were recorded even earlier, dating back before Indiana gained statehood in 1816.
In addition to marriage licenses and certificates, counties also used marriage applications, returns, and/or transcripts. The type of record available depends on the specific county and time period of the marriage.
Accessing Marriage Records
All marriage records in Indiana are part of the public record and are therefore fully accessible to anyone. Paperwork was typically filed in the county where the bride resided. To access these records you can contact the County Clerk’s Office in the applicable county. A complete list of contact information is available here. Microfilmed copies of many early Indiana marriage records are also available at the Indiana State Library.
What You’ll Find
The information recorded on marriage records depends on both the type of record and the year it was recorded. For instance, marriage records before 1905 did not typically include the names of the parents of the bride and groom. However, some counties kept additional records during this period, such as marriage returns and applications, that listed this information. In general, you can expect to find at least some of the following:
- the full names of the bride and groom
- the date and location of the marriage
- the birth dates or ages of the bride and groom
- the names of the parents of the bride and groom
- the addresses of the bride and groom
- the names of the witnesses
Using a Marriage Index
Unlike birth indices, which sometimes serve as a substitute for government-issued birth records, marriage indices are typically used to help locate the original record. By searching for your ancestor’s marriage in an index, either online or in book format, you can pinpoint the exact date and location of the marriage. Knowing this information helps you narrow your search and can save you time and energy.
The Indiana State Library maintains an online index of Indiana marriages through 1850. They also maintain indices of later marriages for most Indiana counties. You can contact them directly to determine if they have information pertaining to your ancestors.
Ancestry.com also provides several indices of Indiana marriages: Indiana Marriages, 1802-1892 ; Indiana Marriages to 1850; and Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941. Remember Ancestry is accessible for free at many of the local libraries.
FamilySearch.org, a non-profit organization that provides free online access to a large collection of genealogical documents and indices, has two Indiana marriage indices available: Indiana, Marriages, 1780-1992 and Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959.
A Few Tips
- If you have trouble locating your ancestor’s marriage record, you may want to try searching in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati was a “Gretna Green,” a place that offered no-questions-asked marriages. Couples commonly went to Cincinnati in order to avoid certain restrictions in their own home counties, such as minimum age requirements, higher fees, parental consent, or cousin laws. You can learn more about Gretna Green locations across the country at FamilySearch.org.
- Don’t ignore the names of the witnesses listed. Witnesses were typically close friends or family members, and they may provide clues that will help you in future searches.
- Keep in mind that several of the indices mentioned are not comprehensive and contain information from only certain counties and dates. If you are unable to find your ancestors, don’t give up. Keep searching, try a different source, and vary your search terms.