Making sense of marriage certificates

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Since last December, has been posting Cook County vital record images that were once only available for $17 through the county itself. Recently, the push has started on marriage licenses.

A few columns ago, I did an entire piece of birth certificates, and another piece on death certificates, and I dismissed marriage licenses as minimally informative. I would like to amend that perspective.

The Cook County marriage license is frustrating because it never lists the parents of the bride or groom. It lists the names of the happy couple and the date they applied for their license from the county. If your relatives happened to get married during a short period in Chicago history, you may notice the name Richard J. Daley signing the license during his tenure (1950-1955) as Cook County clerk!

However, the bottom of the license is the best part, because it is where the officiating person, whether a priest, minister, judge, Elvis impersonator … ok let’s exclude Elvis … attests to the fact that they married this couple. It then lists the date of the actual marriage, and the location of the marriage. If you’re unlucky, the certificate says that the couple was married by Judge Kenneth J. Smith in “Chicago.” Since most of our relatives were married in Catholic parishes, you may see the name of the church, or an address, or at the very least the name of the priest. You can use that name and that marriage date to find which parish they were married in.

There are few Catholic records for Chicago available after 1915, but at least with the name of the parish and exact date of the marriage, you can contact the parish and see if there is any further information on the sacramental register. If the parish is closed, you have to contact the parish that yours merged with, or the Archdiocesan Archives at 711 W. Monroe St. by calling 312-534-4450.

I am working on this as a side project. I have many photos, and I presume you do also, of the inside of a church, and the soon-to-be-married couple, taken from the back of the church. You can see the backs of the couple, and the church wall where the altar is, but little else. I want to know which church this is, but after 50-60-70 years, memory becomes a little fuzzy. If I can find the marriage license, I stand a good chance of finding the name of the priest at the very least. Then I can use newspaper searching, or city directories to find the name of the parish. Sadly, there is no directory or website where you can search for a priest and a year, to see which parish he was in. Another method to work around this is to visit the Casa Italia library to see if they have any jubilee books for the Italian parishes.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you search Cook County’s website, the marriage date that they give you is the date of the license, not the date of the marriage. However, they give us a crucial piece of data, the license number. We will need this later.

So, what new images are available on familysearch? Until recently, there were microfilms available from 1871 marriages through 1920, but only indexed through 1916. Many of these have now been indexed and can be searched. However, the familysearch catalog now shows two more entries: Cook County marriages 1920-1950, and Cook County marriages 1950-1967. (The catalog says 1972 but really it only goes to 1967). None of these are indexed yet, and some of these do not have images on familysearch yet either, as of this writing. So far they have 1920-1942 images, and some from 1959-1964. Presumably more of these will be released to the familysearch web site in the future. It’s a little confusing so I will show a chart at this point to explain:

Microfilm                                    1871-1920     1930-1960    mostly Chicago not suburbs                        1920-1942    images on-line but not indexed
1959-1964    see below

The 1920-1929 are making their first appearance anywhere on familysearch but are not indexed anywhere. Unfortunately, unless you know the marriage license number from some other source, you can only scan through these one record at a time.

The 1930-1942 and the 1959-1960 are indexed at but you can’t see the images. The same years are on and are not indexed. How do we work around this? Search for the marriage on and find the couple, and the record number which is in fact the license number. Cook County license numbers never repeat, which is very helpful here.

Now you go to and find the Cook County marriages 1920-1950 or 1950-1972. Scroll down to the “film” number that contains your license number. They are increments of 500 licenses per “film.” You can search within the web page also, for 1745000 if you license is between 1745000 and 1745499. Click the camera at the right of the “film” you need. Don’t forget that you have to do this while you are in a Family History Center or affiliate.

This method will work in the future when more images are released for other years, until the marriages are indexed. Happy hunting!

Please write to Dan at and please put “Fra Noi” in the subject line.


About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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One comment

  1. Great article! Very thorough–the details and work-arounds really help. Thanks, Dan!

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