I am trying to find a marriage record for an ancestor of mine, Samuel McReynolds (1847-1905).

The reason I am trying to find this is that I have no idea who his parents are and I am hoping to find that out.

He married a Sultanie Jane Cox (1867-1967), who was enumerated in Umatilla, Oregon on the 1870 and 1880 census (parents: Joshua and Mary Ann Cox). In a newspaper article (The Fresno Bee, Thursday January 19, 1967) the reporter says she was married around 1884 to her "neighbor" Samuel McReynolds. He unfortunately doesn't show up as a "neighbor" on the 1880 census or anywhere else on that census that I can tell.

Samuel and Sultana McReynolds' first 2 sons were born in Milton,Oregon, the third Son (Stephen William McReynolds) was born in Walla Walla, Washington (which is right on the border of Milton, Oregon) in 1890 and the family moved to California shortly after that (they show up in California on the 1900 US Federal Census). So I believe their marriage most likely took place in Umatilla, Oregon. I recently contacted a genealogist in Umatilla and she tells me there is NO record of this marriage in Umatilla, or Walla Walla. It's not in the Oregon State archives or the Washington State archives either!!!!

Any suggestions?

  • I just took a webinar from Claire V. Brisson-Banks on Attacking Brick Walls ... one of her examples of places she has found marriage dates and other information was in a Deed! She also suggested checking everyday court records (minute books) because sometimes the JPs scribbled down the information in the midst of all the other court cases and other things they did that day. So the short answer is: look at everything! Claire's website is Timeless Genealogies.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 2:17
  • There's a nice overview of land records here Buried Tresures in Land Records from the blog at Genealogists.com.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 20, 2015 at 20:44

1 Answer 1


This question illustrates the perils of trying to leapfrog through the decades by collecting only census and vital records for our people of interest. Without the context of the surrounding community -- knowing the friends, neighbors, and associates -- we can miss important clues.

I looked briefly at county marriage records for a different county in Oregon, and the license that was returned to the state did not have the parents' names on it, only the parties getting married and their two witnesses. It's possible that even if the genealogist had found a marriage record at the State Archives, it would not have had a direct answer to the question about his parents. But even though it may not tell us Samuel's parents directly, in tough cases we need every scrap of information we can find -- so how do we find this record?

Census Day in 1900 was June 1st. According to the census, Samuel and Sultana have been married for 16 years, which gives us a rough estimate of 1883-1884. If they married in Umatilla County, Oregon, what record would have been taken, and where would those records be now? The FamilySearch Research Wiki article on Oregon Vital Records says that records of marriage began in 1842, with statewide registration starting in 1906. This tells us that we have ONE record to look for, not TWO (because at the time, the local record did not also have to be registered with the state).

The Wiki article gives us other helpful information: a list of some collections which are available online, and a note that marriage records from 1849-1930 are also at the Oregon State Archives. Amy tells us that a search of the Archives, and of the neighboring Washington State Archives, has been unsuccessful. Now what?

The article suggests:

  • Looking for "Gretna Greens" (towns with less-restrictive requirements on getting a marriage license) -- such as Winnemucca, Nevada, or Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Idaho. Looking at a historical topographic map might show which other county seats might have been easy to get to, or how a couple might have traveled to a "Gretna Green".
  • Looking at substitute records, such as church records, newspapers, or periodicals.

Going to the FamilySearch Catalog and doing a place search for Umatilla county, there are a lot of interesting things which are too late for the time period we want. But in addition to the general histories of the area, there are some interesting entries to pursue:

  • Umatilla County, Oregon, marriages, 1862-1894. This may be a compilation from the records that were already searched at the State Archives. The notes say "Includes volumes A-F". If those are surname initials, and not a letter-numbering (instead of saying volumes 1-6) then -- if the records consulted were indexed by the names of the brides -- this might have Sultana listed in the index. If it truly covers surnames A-F then Samuel wouldn't be in this collection. (I've had exactly this problem in my own research, where the brides' book was indexed, but the grooms' book was missing the part of the alphabet I needed.)

  • Agricultural and property assessment and census for Umatilla County, Oregon, 1865, 1870, 1875, 1885 (two microfilm rolls). Finding Samuel McReynolds on the 1885 Oregon State Census might give us more information -- if he is listed, maybe we could see where his land is in relation to Sultana Cox's parents, and trace back that property. Also, an 1885 Census might tell us more information about when they were married.

  • Land and Property Records -- Land pre-emption & homestead records (Umatilla County, Oregon), 1881-1894 and Umatilla County (Oregon) mining claims and naturalization records, 1863-1880, 1883-1919 might narrow down the time frame of when Sam came to the area, or answer the 'neighbor' question.

  • The most important catalog entry is hiding under the catalog listing "Archives and Libraries: Inventories, Registers, Catalogs": Inventory of the county archives of Oregon, no. 30, Umatilla County (Pendleton). This is a 385-page report (viewable online and downloadable) created in 1942, during the Work Projects Administration, listing what historical records were found in county archives. It begins with an 84-page historical sketch of the county and maps, gives an overview of the county records, a review of the records' accessibility, followed by a list of what records were found. The records may have been moved elsewhere since 1942, but this gives you a list of what still existed in 1942. The index to this report includes a title list of area newspapers, some of which may be accessible online. Note too that in the index "Marriage" has the subheadings "authority to solemnize, certificates, licenses, record, returns" which means there are multiple kinds of marriage records which may be available. Unfortunately there was no clue in the Fresno Bee about Sultana's church affiliation (if any); church records are a good alternate source if civil marriage records aren't available.

Now let's go across the boarder to Walla Walla County in Washington. There are two digital items which are available to view online. These may be the collections that were already searched by your genealogist, but it can't hurt to take a look at them, if only to see what information is given on the records.

The other record sets I would check, just in case, are these:

Being born in December 1847, Sam is perhaps too young to have served at the beginning of the war, but he might have been called up at the end. Widows' pension files often include marriage information, because the widow will have wanted to prove her relationship to the soldier.

Another untapped resource is to widen your search and study the area itself -- find bloggers who write about other people who lived in the areas you are interested in. You may not find your own family in their writings, but if they talk about how they found records and maps and other things, it will give you ideas of where else you can look for things. While I was searching for information about the town my father's family came from, I discovered a blog post with a railway schedule. I hadn't looked at the map, so I hadn't considered how people might have traveled on the train.

Online newspaper resources for Oregon:

Newspaper finding aids and search tips:

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