Monday, August 7, 2017

Marriage Search

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Your ancestors were probably married but, if they did it in New York before 1880, you’re going to have a hard time proving it. New York State began statewide registration of births, deaths, and marriages in 1880, although full compliance was not reached until 1913. Prior to that, records tended to be a bit, shall we say, inconsistent. A good breakdown of what official records are available where can be found at the New York State Archives website.

So, what resources are available when you can’t find official records? There are a couple of options:

1. Church Records

Most churches and pastors keep a record of services performed for members including marriages, baptisms, and funerals. Unless they have been lost due to catastrophic flood or fire damage, most churches maintain their records into perpetuity. When churches close, they often send the records to their denomination’s regional or national archives. Here at the Chemung County Historical Society, we have the original records of the First Baptist Church of Elmira and of itinerant Methodist preacher Rev. Joseph Riggs. We also have an index to the records held by Trinity Episcopal Church.

Page from the records of Rev. Joseph Riggs, 1864.
2. Newspapers

Often times newspapers would print marriage announcements. The Chemung County Historical Society has historic newspapers dating as far back as 1819. We have an index of marriage announcements which appeared in Elmira Gazette, 1830-1850, and are working on creating a comparable one for Elmira Republican & General Advertiser, 1832-1837. In addition to the various papers in our collections, there are a number of on-line databases you can search as well.

Marriage and death announcements in the Elmira Republican & General Advertiser, February 16, 1833

3. Ephemera

Lots of items are produce both in the run-up to and as part of the marriage which may serve as evidence. Some examples include invitations; marriage certificates; wedding souvenir books; photographs; accounts in letters and diaries; material associated with anniversaries; family bibles. Here at the Chemung County Historical Society we have a number of all of the above and your family probably has more. Don’t be afraid to use them as evidence in the absence of official records. 

Clark-Dean wedding, 1880

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy following and doing research on my family history and my Aunt who did my Dad's side it dates back to the early 1600s! Aunt Thelma had a very difficult time tracking marriage records in the time your referring to, so your story is very interesting thanks for sharing it.