I am searching for a civil record marriage record for an individual who (according to family records) got married in central Pennsylvania in 1835 at the age of 20.

To date I have not been able to find a specific church record. I would like to find some sort of civil-record of the marriage.

In addition to gaining a more specific date and location (I know the town), I am hoping to find more than a line item entry which I have regularly seen in church records. I am looking for a place of birth or some other clue about the origins of the individual of the individual. No birth/origin information is known other than a date of birth which was consistently used throughout their life, which might not be correct. Their parents are also unknown to myself or any other researchers in the past.

From the time of the marriage until their death they regularly show up in Censuses and other records, but the marriage is the earliest recorded date that may have a document associated. In all subsequent records, including their death certificate it simply says "Pennsylvania" as place of birth.

I have already looked at the question How can I establish a 19th-Century birthplace.

The area of focus for my question is below, which I realize is not all of central PA and is also a bit of Eastern PA. They are believed to have married in Bedford but people with similar names existed in near-by counties. enter image description here

Map Source: http://www.mapofus.org/pennsylvania/ set to 1835.

1 Answer 1


According to the "marriage records" section of the FamilySearch Wiki article on Pennsylvania Vital Records, with a few exceptions, local civil marriage records began around 1885, far later than the time period you are studying. In that section, there is a bibliography for earlier records which have been published, but the bulk of the entries are for the period before 1810.

Ancestry's Research Wiki, the online form of their reference the Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources, sums up the situation by saying:

Aside from the exceptions noted above and for marriages recorded from 1885 in the county Orphans’ Courts, nineteenth-century civil vital records in Pennsylvania are practically non-existent. It is important, therefore, to make use of substitutes such as church and justice of the peace records, grave marker inscriptions and burial records, newspaper marriage and death notices, and censuses.

FamilySearch's collection of Pennsylvania Marriages, 1709-1940 is an electronic index of whatever collections of marriages the indexers happened to find, so the user should not assume complete coverage (or any coverage) for a particular year, simply because the year happens to fall in between the date bounds. (These collections often have disclaimers that there may be entries outside those date bounds as well, so always read the fine print.) The coverage table shows 5,696 entries for Bedford county marriages.

It may be that there is no single civil record that would hold all the information you want, and you'll have to use indirect evidence. Dr. Thomas Jones' video class at FamilySearch, Inferential Genealogy shows us how to do it, but first we have to find some records. Where can we look?

One approach might be to treat the situation as if you have a burned courthouse. When you need to use indirect evidence, a checklist such as this list of Sources of Genealogical Information can be useful. Judy G. Russell's blog The Legal Genealogist explains the purpose of marriage bonds, what sorts of information can be found in legal notices in newspapers, when marriage and divorce records are found in state statutes, and more.

Look for court minute books, probate records, deeds (sometimes the marriage date and place had to be recorded as part of the transaction), the state statutes, newspapers -- anywhere your person's name is likely to have been recorded alongside someone else's name. To use inferential genealogy, it helps to cast the net as wide as possible so you can have more material to work with, and have more ways to separate people with similar names. Elizabeth Shown Mills' QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle shows how to use information about friends, neighbors, and associates, as well as family members, when tackling tough research problems.

One place to start might be the multi-volume publication The Pennsylvania Archives, a compiled collection of early government records. Fold3 says

The only online availability of virtually all of the Pennsylvania Archives is here, with free access, on Fold3.com. Previously, the full set was available in total or in parts on various libraries’ shelves, or microfilm, and on a few CD-ROMs. Each of the ten series, numbered 1 through 9 plus the Colonial Records series, has been scanned and made searchable. Previous indexes to each series of the set were incomplete or non-existent and caused this valuable set to be underutilized by veteran and casual researchers alike. The valuable search capability created by Fold3.com provides the key to unlocking previously hidden names and events.

This compiled set of works is in 138 volumes, arranged in 10 series. Some of the volumes are also available to view on the Internet Archive or can be found in libraries. Fold3 has scanned the volumes and made them searchable, so cautions about OCR apply.

Kenneth Marks' site The Ancestor Hunt has links to Pennsylvania newspapers and lessons on working with OCRed materials. See the main page Newspapers! for lessons, video tutorials, the main links to newspapers for each state, and more.

Other resources for Bedford County, Pennsylvania:

It is natural to want to find one record that has all the information we seek. But at all times, I think it is important to keep in mind the good advice given in this answer:

Work from a time line on which you specify locations (and/or events). Pick the point on the timeline where you feel you have solid information; begin there. When you move from that point in time, think INCHWORM (rather than leapfrog).

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