What You Might Be Missing in Marriage Records

Marriage records seem pretty basic. A bride and groom, a date, and a place. (If you’re lucky, there’s a form that they filled out that includes some biographical details.) There are a couple of details that you might be missing on even the basic marriage records.

The Other People on the Marriage Record

Besides the bride and groom, there is almost always one other person listed on a civil marriage record: the person who officiated the wedding. If that person was a minister, that’s your clue to go looking for church records.

Many churches keep their own marriage records in addition to the civil marriage record that’s filed at the courthouse. Sometimes the church records give much more information that what is on the civil marriage record. That’s certainly the case with Christian Osmond/Ossmann and Christiana Egg of Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Their civil marriage record is typical for 1854 in Ohio. It lists the bride, the groom, the officiant, and the date and place (county) of the marriage. Pretty basic stuff.

Christian Osmond and Christiana Egg, Cuyahoga County, Ohio Marriage Records, vol. 5, page 518. Image courtesy FamilySearch.

Christian Osmond and Christiana Egg were married 12 February 1854 by J.C.W. Lindemann, P.

Fortunately for anyone researching Christian and Christiana, Lindemann wasn’t a “J.P.,” which stands for Justice of the Peace. That’s a civil position. Unless a couple getting married by a JP has another wedding in a church, there isn’t a church marriage record for them.

But who was J.C.W. Lindemann? I did a Google search for J C W Lindeman Cleveland Minister. The first hit was for the “About” page of Cleveland’s Trinity Lutheran Church:

“Reverend J.C.W. Lindemann from Germany was established as Trinity’s first pastor in 1853.”

That’s consistent with a marriage date of 1854. Now it was time to look for Trinity’s marriage records. They are online at FamilySearch (Ohio, Cleveland, Trinity Lutheran Church Records 1853-2013). Two challenges: the records aren’t indexed (meaning you’ll have to browse through the images) and they’re in German. But the effort is well worth it when you find their marriage record in Trinity’s congregational register, 1853-1911:

Christian Ossmann and Christiane Egg marriage, Trinity Lutheran Church, Cleveland, Ohio. Courtesy FamilySearch.

My German is not the best, but I can pick out the following information. (I bet some readers will be able to fill in the rest!)

Christian Ossmann (note the different spelling than what was on the civil marriage record), born 18 [ ? ] 1831 in Zwingenberg, Hessen Darmstadt. Christiane Egg, born in Neiss, Rheinpreussen. Married 12 February 1854 by a license from the Probate Court. Witnesses were Friedrich August Beisser and Tobias Ossmann.

Yeah, I'd say it was worth looking for that church record.

Other People

In some states, people had to provide bond before a marriage could take place. Often the bondsmen were related to either the bride or the groom. When those are listed on the civil marriage record, be sure to research those individuals.

Similarly in the Ossmann/Egg church marriage record, we have witnesses of Friedrich August Beisser and Tobias Ossmann. I’d theorize that at least Tobias is related.

Tracking Down the Minister

In this case, it was easy to find what church the minister was affiliated with. But what if Google hadn’t have been able to offer up that information? Then it’s time for good ol’ genealogy research. Look for him (or her) in county histories and city directories. Research him and find when and where he died, then look for an obituary. Contact the local genealogy society to see if the name sounds familiar to them.

Even the most basic civil marriage record can give us a valuable clue beyond the names of the bride and groom and the date and place of the marriage. Look closely at who married them. If he or she was a member of the clergy, take that next step and go looking for church marriage records.

The bride and groom. The date and place. Those are the basic facts in a marriage record. But there a valuable clue that you might be missing.

Beyond the names of the bride and groom and marriage date and place, there's a valuable clue you might be missing in marriage records.

23 thoughts on “What You Might Be Missing in Marriage Records

  1. I have usually moved on after finding the civil marriage record so this SO practical for my research. I knew I wasnt looking in all the haystacks!

  2. Comparing the handwriting to tables online that show German script, I’d say your missing month is “Januar,” German for January.

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  4. Yep! I was doing research in Ontario, Canada and found the name of the minister mentioned in a newspaper article (no marriage record that I could find). With the name of the minister, I was able to track down the church and that church’s current secretary was so sweet to let me look at their books going back to 1861 to find the entry for my family. How exciting it was to see the original writing of when my family got married!

  5. I was researching my great grandparents marriage for which I had a beautiful form signed by the minister and all of the guests. But no date, church, etc. I wrote the State of New Jersey asking for marriage information. There was none.
    But the state archivist, God love her, did some more digging and found information that the minister was visiting from an Episcopal parish in Philadelphia so I wrote them only to find that the parish did not exist any more. So I wrote the diocese office. Bingo, I received a copy of the marriage certificate, etc., so I had the needed information.

  6. Hi, how would you find additional information on a Jewish marriage? I have civil record from Chicago 1886, but that only has bride and groom names, no additional information. Any ideas for a way to track additional data

    • Hi, Anne! That’s a great question! I haven’t done a lot of Jewish research, but my first instinct would be to look at city directories from the time period and identify which synagogues were in the couple’s neighborhood. From there, it’s a matter of looking where those records might still exist. You might also want to check out some of the organizations listed on JewishGen’s page for Chicago: http://www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/Chicago/jewish_orgs_chgo.htm

  7. Researching my grandmothers sister’s marriage record, I found the name of a witness who had the same last name as the bride. No one left alive today ever heard of him and he doesn’t appear in any census, even the New York off year census. Just another mystery…………

  8. Good recommendations Amy,
    I always suggest that when you are looking for a church marriage that you look for the bride’s church, where many more weddings are performed.

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