Marriage and divorce information can be found in numerous places: church records, vital records, directories, biographies, family Bibles, newspapers, death certificates, tombstones, military service records, and censuses just to name a few. This research guide describes only church records, vital records, and those court records that deal with divorce. For information about other types of records, see the other genealogy research guides. Some basic questions and answers concerning marriage and divorce records are:
What are the best short essays that describe church and public records?
- The Source: a Guidebook to American Genealogy. Chapters 6 and 13. Social Science and History Department (SSH) 929.1072 So84a2.
- The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. SSH 929.1072 G859r2.
- Pennsylvania Vital Records From the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 1, introduction. SSH 929.3748 P384v.
When did the maintenance of marriage and divorce records become required by law in the area of interest?
- Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. Use for U.S. vital records. Study the sections on vital records for the area of interest. For records of other countries, see a genealogical guide book for the country of interest in the Social Science and History Department. SSH 929.1072 R245b.
- Before marriage records became legally required in the area of interest, church records and Bible records are usually the best sources of marriage information.
- Divorce information is usually found in court records; however, it can also be found in early published session laws, for example, the Session Laws of Pennsylvania, issued annually. Government Publications Department States P38-21.
What church made a record of the marriage?
To search for church marriage records, first determine where the people lived, then see the lists of churches in local directories, guidebooks, and histories written around the time of interest. Also see denominational and individual church histories. Many resources are available through keyword searching on the Free Library online catalog or by making inquiries at the Social Science and History Department reference desk.
- Historical Atlas of Religion in America. Education, Philosophy and Religion Department/Stacks 277.3 G238h.
- Religion on the American Frontier, 1783-1840: a Collection of Source Materials, 4 vols. Baptists - EPR/STX 286 Sw36b. Presbyterians - EPR/STX 285.1 Sw36p. Congregationalists - EPR/STX 285.8 Sw36c. Methodists - 287.6 Sw36m.
- Places of Worship: Exploring their History. Good bibliography and lists of denominational resources. EPR/STX 291.6507 W722p.
Are the church records I need still in existence? If so, where are they?
Generally speaking, church records are accessible in the following formats: published records, microfilmed records, or original records. The older the church record, the more likely it will be published or microfilmed and located at a local historical or genealogical society or at a denominational religious archive. The more recent the church record, the more likely it will be in its original form and in the possession of the church where the event took place. Writing or calling local repositories may be the only way to determine if certain records exist and if they are accessible. The following documents list points of contact:
- Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. Lists county courthouse contact information for entire United States. SSH 929.1072 R245b.
- The Genealogist's Address Book. SSH 929.1025 B444g.
- The Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada. SSH 906 Am31dh.
- The Source: a Guidebook to American Genealogy. SSH 929.1072 So84a2.
- Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. EPR/STX 206 Y32o.
- For a listing of the "classic" books that contain published church and vital records, see American and British Genealogy and Heraldry. SSH/STX 016.9291 F472a.
Other sources to check for marriage records are:
- Check List of Historical Records Survey Publication. SSH/STX 015.73 C4365c.
- A Survey of American Church Records. SSH/STX 016.9293 K635s.
- National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. Online at www.loc.gov/coll/nucmc. Rare Books Department 016.091 N213u.
- National Register of Microfilm Masters. SSH/STX 017 N213r.
What is the best way to find early Pennsylvania church records?
- Genealogist's Guide to Pennsylvania Records. Lists the genealogical holdings of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) by Pennsylvania county as of the late 1970s - 1980s. Church records received since then are listed in the HSP card catalog. The actual church records are at HSP. SSH 929.1072 G286g.
- Clint's Pennsylvania County Series, a series of books that list genealogical resources by Pennsylvania county. For example, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Area Key. SSH/STX 929.3748 C617bu.
- Guide to Genealogical and Historical Research in Pennsylvania lists genealogical resources by Pennsylvania county. SSH/STX 016.9748 h671g3.
Who is the custodian of public marriage records for each of the United States, what do they have, and how do I contact them?
- Where to Write for Vital Records. Lists vital record offices for each state.
- Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. SSH 929.1072 R245b. For Pennsylvania counties see Vital Records Information - Pennsylvania.
- International Vital Records Handbook: Births, marriages, deaths. SSH 929.3025 K32i3 2009. Provides forms that can be photocopied to request vital records.
Who is the custodian of public Philadelphia marriage records and how do I contact them?
- Marriage records from 1 Jul 1860 to 30 Dec 1885 are at the Philadelphia City Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 685-9401.
- Marriage records from 1 Oct 1885 to the present are at the Marriage License Bureau, Room 415, City Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 686-2234.
Who is the custodian of public marriage records for other Pennsylvania counties and how do I contact them?
Write to the Marriage License Clerk, County Court House, in the county where the marriage license was issued. Courthouse addresses are in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. SSH 929.1072 R245b. For Pennsylvania counties see Vital Records Information - Pennsylvania.
Who is the custodian of Philadelphia divorce records and how do I contact them?
Divorce dockets prior to 1875 are at The Philadelphia City Archives, 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 685-9401. Divorce records after 1874 are at The Court of Common Pleas, Room 266, City Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 686-6652. Divorce indexes are available. Indexes give date of filing, case number, plaintiff and defendant, and disposition of case.
Who is the custodian of divorce records for other Pennsylvania counties and how do I contact them?
Write to the Prothonotary, County Court House, in the county where the divorce was granted. Courthouse addresses are in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources. SSH 929.1072 R245b.
Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP)
Ask for Researching your Family History, a handout at the Social Science and History Department.
FLP does NOT have unpublished vital or church records.
Call numbers for published marriage records can be determined by making keyword searches on the online catalog with such combinations as PENNSYLVANIA MARRIAGE and PENNSYLVANIA VITAL, or by making a subject search with the term REGISTERS, and then scrolling down to see all of the entries. The most comprehensive published marriage records are:
- Names of Persons for whom Marriage Licenses were Issued in the Province of Pennsylvania previous to 1790. 929.3 P384n. Public marriage records reprinted from Pennsylvania Archives, S2, V2.
- Record of Pennsylvania Marriages Prior to 1810, 2 vols. SSH 929.3 L649r. Church marriage records reprinted from Pennsylvania Archives, S2, V8 & V9.
- New Jersey Marriage Records, 1665-1800. SSH 929.3 N338n.
- "Divorces Granted by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from December 1785 until 1801" in Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, v. 1, no. 1, January 1895. SSH/STX A929 G28.
- Pennsylvania Vital Records From the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 3 vols. SSH 929.3748 P384v. Contains reprints of vital records and tombstone inscriptions from Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine up to 1980 and from Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography up to 1935. For similar articles in the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine after 1980, see annual indexes.
- Pennsylvania German Marriages, 1710-1895. SSH 929.3748 Ir4p.
- Pennsylvania Archives, S6, V6. Gives some marriage records from Lehigh County 1734-1834, Lancaster County 1752-1786, and Philadelphia County 1784-1786. SSH 974.8 P3823a.
- Genealogical Abstracts of Pennsylvania & the Statutes at Large, 1682-1820. SSH 929.3 L749g.
- Social Register of Philadelphia, 1898-1977. Gives maiden names of women and annual lists of marriages and deaths of socially prominent Philadelphians. SSH/STX and Microfilm 917.481 So1.
- When searching for early Catholic families, see the American Catholic Historical Society Records. There are cumulative indexes for vols. 1-31 and 32-41 that are especially useful. EPR/STX 206 Am3.
- There are numerous newspaper indexes that list local marriages. These indexes should always be consulted.
The HSP and GSP collections are both located at 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. It is a great place to find early Pennsylvania church records, collections of Bible records, and other early material. The annual indexes in Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine should be reviewed not only for surnames of interest, but also for headings such as Bible Records, Tombstone Inscriptions, Marriages, and similar topics. FLP, GSP, and HSP have a complete run of the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine in paper form. The GSP has a 100 year index to the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine and the issues themselves on CD-ROM.
PAR is the best place to find Philadelphia marriage records from 1 Jul 1860 to 30 Dec 1885. PAR does not make copies of marriage records or registers. They will issue a certified typed transcript of the original record for a fee. PAR also has microfilm of marriage licenses issued by the Marriage License Bureau from 1 Oct 1885 to 30 Dec 1915. These 1885-1915 records are for viewing only, PAR does not issue copies of them. PAR is the best place to find Philadelphia divorce dockets prior to 1875.
MLB is the best place to search for Philadelphia marriage records from 1 Oct 1885 to the present. Copies are available for a fee. Divorce information and parental permission documents can be found interfiled with marriage records but need to be requested specifically.
An index to divorces after 1874 is at The Court of Common Pleas, Room 266, City Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 686-6652. Indexes give date of filing, case number, plaintiff and defendant, and disposition of case. Questions concerning the actual divorce records should be directed to the staff at CCP.
PAA has some divorce information, 1750-1837, for the Eastern District of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See the Guide to Genealogical Sources at the Pennsylvania State Archives. SSH 016.9293 P384g.
TUA has the clipping files from the old Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper. Many engagement and marriage clippings can be found here.
The LDS collection is the largest collection of genealogical material in the world and is worldwide in scope. Numerous microfilm reels of church and public records are available for loan for a nominal fee. A guide for using this collection is available at all LDS Family History Centers. Most of the PAR birth records described above are available from LDS. Generally speaking, anything that can be borrowed from LDS can be photocopied.