Research Notes -
from Park Genealogical Books,
your specialists in genealogy and local history for Minnesota and the surrounding area

Minnesota Marriage Records

So you've discovered that your ancestor lived in Minnesota, had children here, and probably got married here. Your brick wall is the maiden name of the wife for that family. Everywhere - on her death record, her obituary, her gravestone, newspaper articles - she's Mrs. Nelson, Schmitt, or whatever. There's no family Bible, no marriage certificate among their papers, no notes on the back of photographs, no references in family letters. She, too, once had her own name, her own parents, grandparents, and siblings. What you need is a place to start, and a marriage record can provide just that.

Marriage records in Minnesota are kept at the county level, with no requirement for reporting to any other body. As with all family research, the first step is gathering the clues for location (typically the residence of the bride) and the most likely date. In the past, each county would have to be searched individually. Now, there is now a new on-line service to help you in your search, The Minnesota Official Marriage system. While not yet complete, all counties are participating and supplying records of their marriages. All is not lost, even if the record you want is not yet on the system.

Check when the county/counties in question began recording marriages. That information can be found in the Handybook for Genealogists or in the Redbook. If the county wasn't formed when you think the marriage took place, you then have to go back to the parent county, and do the same kind of check. And ask yourself if the marriage could have taken place before the couple arrived in Minnesota.

Then if you collect all their census listings - both Federal and State - even more information may be available. The Soundex reports or indexes will not be enough - you need the actual pages. While not always accurate, the clues that are there will help you locate a marriage record.

Put the census reports in chronological order, and find the birth information for the first child. For many couples, the first child was born sometime during the first year after marriage. Did she go home to be with her own mother for that birth? Even though your working theory is that they were married in Minnesota, marriages usually took place where the bride and her parents lived.

Were they on the 1895 or the 1905 Minnesota State Census? That census asked how long they lived in the state, and how long they lived in that specific locale. If the numbers are not the same, you know that they moved at least once within the state.

Were they on the 1900 Federal Census? That one tells you which marriage it is (M2 means the person's second marriage), and how many years that marriage has lasted. That means the date is now a little more certain.

Are there others in the household noted as an in-law of some type? Women were often the caretakers for the older generation - an elderly parent would move in with a daughter. Here is a potential surname to check out.

By now you should have a possible time period and a few names to check out, along with some possible locations. Many counties allowed the Mormon Church to microfilm their records. Your local Family History Library can get those films for you - do they have them? Check their catalog at {}.

Remember that not all marriages were filed immediately or in the local county seat. In the territorial time period, traveling clergy performed many marriages, then filed them in their home area. The marriage could be filed several months or years later, or never filed at all. That means that you may need to check clergy diaries and church records, or newspapers.

Local genealogical societies and publications often include early marriage records. Check for their publications and newsletters. Park Genealogical Books has published early records from Blue Earth, Dakota, Faribault, Hennepin, Itasca, Lincoln, McLeod, Meeker, Nicollet, Nobles, Ramsey, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, and other counties. Check our catalog.

The Minnesota Genealogical Society has published indexes, which would help you find the records they've published. For help in finding other local newsletters and publications, check PeRSI, the index done by the Genealogical Department at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. It is available in published versions at many libraries, and can now be purchased on CD-ROM. And of course a query on the appropriate MnGenWeb site could lead to further clues or the answer you seek.

In short, when looking for the needle in the haystack, assemble all the clues you can. Marriages were filed earlier than other vital records in Minnesota - the trick is finding the right time and location!

© 2010, Park Genealogical Books, Roseville, MN

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