Original Marriage Certificate/License - Privately Held

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Kent Frazier
Kent Frazier's picture
Original Marriage Certificate/License - Privately Held

I've searched the forums, but I couldn't find a post that I thought answered my situation.

I'm starting to work on my own genealogy, with myself. I have in my possession the original marriage certificate that was issued when I was married. The certificate was issued by the county clerk's office.

The top of the document states "Certificate of Marriage". The bottom of the document states "LICENSE ISSUED BY THE CLERK OF _______COUNTY____________19______" blanks filled in with the date the document was issued.

I'm guessing that in this case the words "certificate" and "license" are used interchangeably.

Do I cite this document as a government issued document or as a privately held artifact? 


EE's picture

Kent, what you have would be a certificate, since it bears that label on its face. However, you would not cite it the same way as an official marriage certificate (EE 9.33) because it's not the same as the officially recorded record. Even if the design of the certificate were to exactly match that used in the county marriage register at the time you married, they are two separate records, bearing information written at different times and by different people. Presumably, when the officiant at your wedding handed you the certificate you checked it to ensure that all facts were entered correctly, but you would not have been around when those facts were entered by a courthouse clerk onto the form in the official register. There could be errors in spelling, date, or other details. The handwriting on one might be more legible than the handwriting on the other. Etc.

Bottom line: What you have would be cited as a privately held artifact (EE 3.25).

As for your next to last sentence: no, "certificate" and "license" are not the same thing. A modern marriage certificate might carry a section for the license information and a section for the "return" information, but the license that was issued may never have been returned to the courthouse or city hall by the officiant--or the marriage might not have taken place after the license was issued; therefore no "certificate of marriage" would be issued. Our QuickTips article at this link may help: https://www.evidenceexplained.com/quicktips/loose-language-vs-word-nerds.

The Editor