FamilySearchLabs has made Philadelphia Marriage Indexes available for 1885-1951. This is great news for those of us searching our roots in Philadelphia! It should be noted that these are the indexes only, not the actual marriage licenses. Also, you are not yet able to search the records with the name search since they have not completed the indexing, but you can browse the collection.
The collection is divided into several groupings:
If you are researching the years 1885-1938, you’re in luck – the record groupings that span those years are alphabetical (and typed, so they are easy to read). Simply to to the first letter of the surname you want to search and click on the number of images available and the records will appear on screen. Then, jump forward in the alphabet until you find the name you are looking for.
What information will you see? Simply the last name and first name of either the bride or groom, the last name of the spouse in parentheses, the year, and the license number. You can then cross-reference the spouse’s name to get a first name for that person. While this may not seem like a lot of information, it did help me track down some maiden names and the year of marriage for quite a few couples. Of course, you can find out much more information by getting a copy of the actual marriage license, and now that you have the names, year, and license number it should not be too difficult. See the Philadelphia Marriage License Bureau for more information. For older marriages (pre-1915), you can obtain copies at the Philadelphia City Archives where the records are available on microfilm. Some of the older records are available at LDS Family History Centers as well.
For the indexes from 1939-1951, the records are not strictly alphabetical, and they are printed instead of typed (printed very neatly, I might add). They are grouped by year, then by the first letter of the last name, then by the first letter of the first name. So, you’ll find all of the Pinto’s, Pater’s, Parker’s, Petruzzelli’s, and Portnoy’s jumbled together, but if you know the person’s first name, you can jump right to the section for that letter (so all of the Joseph’s, John’s, and Jacob’s with a last name beginning with “P” are together). Because of this, the indexes for these years will take more time to look through. But, the fact that they go all the way up to 1951 means that I should be able to find the marriage records for many cousins to help fill in some bare branches on the tree.
My only “pet peeve” is that I can not seem to access one record group. For the years 1917-1938, the surnames beginning with X-Y-Z simply will not come up. I can’t access the records for Zawodny! I’ve sent a message via the “Feedback” form, so I’m sure the smart folks at Family Search Labs will fix the link soon. Update: As of 25 July 2008, this problem has been fixed on the site and the X-Y-Z records can now be accessed!
One word of caution: if you can’t find a couple listed in the index, try elsewhere. All four of my grandparents were born and raised in Philadelphia, yet both couples got married – and therefore got their marriage licenses – in Media, PA (the county seat for Delaware County). My only great-grandparents to be married in the U.S. chose Camden, NJ – despite the fact they both lived in Philadelphia. Also, one of the most popular “marriage destinations” back then was Elkton, MD – apparently the legal age for marriage was younger here, so you didn’t need your parents’ permission as you would in PA!
You never know who you might find in these records – and you may not even realize it’s someone famous! I already have this particular marriage record, but I looked the groom up in the index anyway. It’s also a good example of what the 1939-1951 indexes look like:
Did you know that actor Gene Kelly was married in Philadelphia? He and Betsy Blair (that’s her “stage name”) chose a spot “in the middle” for her New Jersey family and his Pittsburgh family. They were literally on their way to Hollywood where Gene would begin his career (bonus points if any readers know which film was his first…without snooping on the net). At least I finally found a way to combine my two GENE hobbies!