A marriage certificate is a document completed by a clergyman or other individual empowered to perform marriages verifying that a marriage ceremony took place. Usually, one copy is given to the bride and groom. A second copy or a standard county form filled out by the officiating individual is filed with the county. The Register of Deeds records the data as an official government record. Often, additional data is supplied from other sources and added to this record. During most of the 1800s it was not required to submit marriage data to the county. For this time period, recorded marriage information is incomplete.
In the 1960s a box of marriage certificates created between 1822 and 1876 was found at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The box also included some miscellaneous documents pertaining to the marriage such as permission to marry slips, authorizations, and land deeds. The information in these documents include a parent giving permission for an underage child to marry, an affidavit of there being no impediment to marriage, information on the closeness of the blood relationship, and written permission for the clerk to hand the marriage license to a third party for delivery. These documents generally do not have standardized information, but can be quite interesting. Many of these documents were not in very good condition. Research by the Milwaukee County Genealogical Society (MCGS) indicates that most of these certificates are not recorded at the Milwaukee County Courthouse. Some of the records appear in the Wisconsin Pre-1907 Marriage Index and some do not.
The certificates and accompanying documents were filmed in 1966. The Milwaukee Public Library owns a set of these microfilmed marriage certificates. In 1999 the MCGS arranged to have the records refilmed, adding location citations. In 2000 MCGS volunteers created alphabetical indexes for bride and for groom. Roger Cobb with Lois Molitor acted as project coordinators. Over 42,000 names were put into the database that produced the indexes. Unfortunately, the original copies that were filmed in 1966 have vanished.
In 2009 the microfilm copy of the marriage certificates was digitized. The digital images of the certificated were combined with the index created by the MCGS to produce this digital collection.
What information can be found on a record?
Like many documents from the 1800s, there can be a difference between what was recorded by one county clerk or clergy member and another. Many of the documents do list the maiden name of the mothers of the bride or the groom, but not all. Some list the maiden name of the bride if she had been married before, but others do not. Some of the documents have very precise locations when asked for place of birth, others are general or a place of birth is not listed at all. Some of the early documents used the standard form but do not seem to have been written on standard forms. If the ceremony was a religious one, the church name was often listed or if the ceremony took place in a home, the affiliation is listed. With civil ceremonies, sometimes a street address and the homeowner’s name and/or relationship are listed.
Most of these documents were created in Milwaukee, but there are a few from other locations. The number of certificates created outside of Milwaukee County is minimal. For Wisconsin there are some records from the following counties: Brown, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Jefferson, La Crosse, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, and Winnebago. From outside of Wisconsin there are a few records from Cook County, IL, Dearborn County, IN and Frankfurt, Germany.
Thank you to the Milwaukee Genealogical Society, and especially to Roger Cobb and Lois Molitor for their invaluable and extensive work in making this collection possible.
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