Each county in Pennsylvania began issuing marriage licenses in 1885. Marriage licenses provide the genealogist with the parents of the bride and groom, as well as their age, residence, place of birth, and who married the couple (A great way to determine their religious faith and find more records!). If you ancestors lived in one of PA’a larger cities – Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Reading, Allentown, Scranton – you’ll find marriage licenses beginning much earlier than 1885.
Marriage licenses are incredibly valuable for genealogical research. Some of these marriage records have been digitized and indexed online, but most are hidden from viewing on the internet. Here’s a quick three step plan to find PA county marriage licenses:
Step 1: Check the Indexed Marriage Records
FamilySearch hosts the digitized and indexed county marriage licenses in Pennsylvania in two databases:
This same database is on Ancestry under two names:
Unfortunately the Ancestry database has just the index and not the images of the original documents. For more details, view Podcast Episode 41: Finding PA Marriage Licenses where I show how to look up a marriage record in FamilySearch based on the information found on Ancestry.
If the marriage record isn’t indexed, the next step is to check the unindexed digitized images.
Step 2: Check the Digitized Images
There are billions of records on FamilySearch not yet indexed for computer searching. To access these records for PA, go to the FamilySearch catalog and type in the county of interest. Then scroll to the Vital Records section to view the available marriage records.
Now to search these records, image you are opening a large book and paging through it. In the front of each book is an index to show which record is on which page. In my Inner Circle Membership, I do a walkthrough of using a complex book index to find an exact record. To view the video and see all the benefits of membership, go here
Even with millions of images of PA marriage records, not every county in represented in the FamilySearch collection. So if nothing is found here, step 3 is contact the county.
Step 3: Contact the County
After exhausting online possibilities, its time for old-school genealogy work and to contact the county directly. Each Pennsylvania county maintains the historical records they issued since their inception. Some counties set up a separate county archive to hold these records. Some counties house the records with the local historical society or library. Still other counties have these original records in the courthouse itself.
Begin by going to the county website and search for “marriage license.” There will be details on how to obtain copies of these records. All marriage licenses are public records and you can access them for anyone (just like land deeds and probate records). Some counties have indexed the records they have and you can search the index from home. See Berks County as an example here.
Obtaining marriage licenses for ancestors provides a treasure trove of information on their life. They are worth the time to track down and obtain, and enjoy the details they provide.