I’ve long admired DearMYRTLE and Ask Olive Tree Genealogy for answering so many questions from their readers. But I’ve been a little jealous too, because I wished that *I* had some questions to answer. Today I received a question via a comment to an earlier post, so I’ve decided to play the “Dear Abby” role perfected by Myrt (aka Pat) and Lorine and answer the question as a new blog post (especially since I’ve been quite slack in new blog posts lately)!
In two previous posts, I discussed finding Philadelphia Marriage Records: Philadelphia Marriage Indexes Online looked at the Family Search Labs site with the indexes from Philadelphia marriages from 1885 to 1951. Then, When You Can’t Find Grandpa’s Marriage Record explored alternative marriage locations around the Philadelphia area if your ancestors lived here but the record is nowhere to be found in the above mentioned index. But today a reader asked a very good question that I hadn’t fully addressed in either post: what about pre-1885 marriage records?
What was the case with Philadelphia marriages prior to 1885? Were marriage certificate required at any point? I’m trying to find out more on my 2nd great grandparents and was wondering if I should be trying to hunt down their marriage certificate (they married in 1884).
Good question, Brad! Cities and states had different requirements as to when civil registration began. In Philadelphia, civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages was required beginning on July 1, 1860. Records from that date through December 31, 1885 are available at the Philadelphia City Archives. According to the Philadelphia City Archives site:
The marriage records give the date of marriage, names, ages, races, generic places of residence and birth for both the bride and groom, minister’s name and address, and denomination of marriage performed.
Most of the indexes are arranged alphabetically by first letters of last and first names, and then by year. If one of the parties to the marriage was Thomas Green and the marriage occurred on 31 August 1873, then one would look at the “G” volume, open to the section which included all people whose first names began with the letter “T” and then look at 1873. There are no separate indexes for men and women – all names are filed in the same index. Most of the indexes of this type stop between 1877 and 1880 so one would then have to look at the yearly indexes for the years 1877 – 1885.
All marriage indexes, registers and original returns have been microfilmed.
The Philadelphia City Archives is located at 3101 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. They can be reached by phone at 215-685-9400 (messages only) or 215-685-9401 (receptionist). If you do not live in Philadelphia or are unable to visit the archives in person, they will search the records for you. Send a written request with as much information as possible. If you know the exact date of the marriage, the fee is $10. If the exact date is unknown, a search will be made for $10 per each 3-month period searched (includes the certificate cost). Note that these fees are current as of today per the Archives’ FAQ page at http://www.phila.gov/Records/Archives/FAQ.html.
Brad, as you can see, the time period for your 2nd great-grandparents is covered with existing records. If you can’t come to Philadelphia to perform a search yourself, the fee to search the entire year is a bit steep at $40 – so you may want to seek alternative means for look-up such as a local researcher. Another option is to subscribe to a genealogy mailing list specific to Philadelphia such as Philly-Roots hosted by Rootsweb/Ancestry. Often someone will ask other listers for help and you can make arrangements offline at less than the archives’ cost.
That might help Brad, but the question remains for others with roots that are deeper into Philadelphia’s history than either Brad’s family or my own: What about earlier records before July 1, 1860?
Since there was no formal registration required by the city (or state) before that date, there are few options when searching for marriage information. One could try the following resources:
- Church Records – Try using city directories and old maps to determine possible churches. If your ancestors were Catholic and you are lookingfor a record prior to 1920, one useful resource is the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center, which is located on the grounds of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary at 100 E. Wynnewood Ave in Wynnewood, PA. Contact them at 610-667-2125 for more information and fees for research.
- Newspaper Announcements – Very few old newspapers have been indexed. Genealogy Bank has some Philadelphia papers from 1719 through 1922.
- Marriage Registers exist for some years, but they can be difficult to find for the pre-1860 era. Try the Historical Society of Pennsylvania or search through the FHL catalog.
I hope this has been helpful to other Philadelphia researchers. If anyone else has any research questions, I’ll try my best to help so please don’t be shy about asking!