Saturday, June 28, 2008

Marriage Records at Washington Courthouse

I have seen many postings to the Washington County PA discussion boards at various genealogy sites requesting look ups for marriage licenses. I thought I would offer a few tips. At the Washington County Courthouse located in Washington, you will find marriage records dating from 1885 to present. The process of finging the actual license involves three steps.

The first step involves looking in a large set of ledgers for the bride and groom's name. There are two sets of ledgers, one listed by the woman's name and another by the man's. Once you find the name, you will also find a book and page number. This takes you to step two.

For step two you move on to another set of ledgers. You find the book # mentioned in the first set of ledgers, and the page #. On this page you will find a number of different marriage licenses for differnet couples, each listing some of the information for the marriage - names, date, signature of the person who officiated and a certificate #. The certificate # is the key to step three. (TIP: One thing I learned while doing research here was that even though you can find some of the documentation, the marriage may never have actually taken place. Sometimes people would fill out an application to be married and the license would be made out, but if something happened and the marriage never took place, then the signed marriage certificate would not be returned by the official. One of my ancestors got this far but apparantly never actually went through with the marriage so I can find all of the other documentation but no actual certificate. Before I realized that this could happen, I just assumed that they were married and that the certificate was just lost. So check for the official's signature to make sure there actually was a marraige.)

For step three, you take that certificate # and go to the microfilm. On the microfilm you will find copies of all of the documentation involved in this marriage. This is where you can find all kinds of wonderful information so make sure you take this process all the way through. You will find microfilmed images of the marriage application which will often show age, sometimes even birthdates and places of the bride and groom. Sometimes you will find occupation and information concerning prior marriages. There may be relatives signatures as witness. If you are lucky, either the bride or groom was a minor and there will be a consent for a minor to marry form signed by the father (and sometimes the mother if the father was deceased). Then if the marriage took place, you will find the certificate that will list the date of the marriage (which is most likely different than the date of the application so be careful which date you record), possibly the location of the wedding, name of bride and groom and signature of the official. Sometimes you may even find copies of divorce papers from a prior marriage.

These ledgers were microfilmed and copies were obtained by the Citizens Library in Washington (a few blocks from the courthouse). However only the records for step 1 and step 3 are at the library. Step 2 is missing so you can't do a complete search at the library. However, if you can't get to the courthouse during the week when they are open, you can do the first part of your search at the library, get the book and page number and the couple's names, then call the courthouse to find the certificate # and then go back to the library to search their microfilm for the documents.

Happy hunting !

To the left is the application for marriage for my Great Grandparents Ira Cleaver Hill and Ora Gertrude Baker. Ira was 23 and Ora was 18 so there is a Consent to the Marriage of Child or Ward below signed by Ora's father James R. Baker.

To the left is the marriage certificate, signed by the clergy that officiated at the ceremony. So the marriage offically occured !

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