How to Find Chicago Marriage Records

Pre-Fire Chicago Marriage Licenses

Because of Chicago Fire losses, only a few civil marriage records exist before 1871. Sources for these licenses include:

Cook County, Illinois Marriage License Records, 1870-1880 by Leona Hopper Newbill FamilySearch Film 0848650 Item 2

Some Cook County Marriages Prior to Fire abstracted by Joan L. Alguire FamilySearch Fiche 6050058

Alternate Sources for Pre-Fire Marriages

Newspaper Notices

Cook County, Illinois, Marriage and Death Indexes, 1833-1889.
This index, also called "Sam Fink's Index," indexes marriage and death notices from Chicago newspapers including Chicago Tribune, Chicago Evening Journal, Chicago Democrat, Chicago Evening Post, Chicago Record-Herald, Chicago Daily News, Chicago Examiner, and the Inter-Ocean. The marriages cover 1833-1871.

For more information about this index, please see my Sam Fink's Marriage-Death Index Available on Ancestry blog post.

The marriage entries from this index are included in the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900 with "FINK" in the license number field, and the index is also available as Chicago Marriage and Death Indexeson FamilySearch film. Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 Subscription database; available at Ancestry.com; includes the Chicago Tribune, 1850-1985.

Church Marriage Records

Check Research Tutorial > Church Records for availability.

Search an Index

Begin your search for Cook County Marriage licenses using the Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 index at FamilySearch. If you can't find a match there, try the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index which covers Cook marriages up through 1900.

If you find a match in either index, write down the names, the date, and the marriage license number.

If you don't find a match for the license you're looking for, check for the marriage in Lake County, Indiana (subscription index at Ancestry.com) and in St. Joseph, Michigan ( 1832-1887 at Michigan GenWeb; 1889-1925 at RootsWeb)

Locate the Record

You can use information found in the online indexes to locate marriage licenses, on microfilm that is available at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northeastern Illinois University (1871-1915), the Wilmette Family History Center (1871-1916) and/or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

If you don't have convenient access to these repositories, you could order the film to be sent to your local Family History Center, but IRAD will send you the record for the cost of the photocopy. If you want a digital image, Genlighten provider bedgingt can do the lookup.

Alternatively, you could check to see if a copy is available for immediate purchase and download at cookcountygenealogy.com or mail in a request to the Cook County Clerk's Office.

Kim makes regular visits to the Circuit Court Archives. See her Genlighten profile for more information about her retrieval service.



Marriage licenses 50 years or older can be obtained from the Cook County Clerk's Office either online or by submitting a manual search request if the image is not available for download.

The online index seems to be incomplete. Licenses from 1920-1930 may not be there, for example. For license numbers to 1924, try searching Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1924 available on Ancestry.com. You can also search the Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1930-1960 at Ancestry.com. This search allows you to use Soundex and to limit the results by day, month, and/or year. If you find index entries for licenses that aren't online, just mail in a request to the clerk's office (see link to form above).

Alternate sources of information include:

In a Nutshell

There are very few marriage records before 1871. Get marriage records from 1871-1915 from IRAD at NEIU or from 1871-1920 from FamilySearch microfilm. Get records after 1920 from the Cook County Clerk's website or by mail. Early applications can be had from the Clerk's Office for the same fee as a license, but before the 1960s, they have little, if any, genealogical information. Licenses do not include parent or witness names.

FAQ

What information is on a marriage license?

Information generally found on these records

  • groom's name, age and residence
  • bride's name, age and residence
  • date the license was issued
  • marriage date and place
  • name of the person who performed the ceremony
Sometimes a church name is given and occasionally witness names are recorded in the bottom margin of a license. Some licenses provide a space for a parent to sign if one of the individuals is underage.

Although the early Cook County marriage licenses do not provide parent names, they can provide valuable clues for further research. For example, many times a church name is given, or if not, a priest's or pastor's name can often be matched to a particular church for a particular time period using city directories.

How can I get the marriage application with parent names?

You may be able to get a copy of the marriage application by submitting a mail-in request to the Cook County Clerk's office, but unfortunately, the early Cook County applications have little or no genealogical information. For example, a 1920s application might only include the name and address of the person who applied for the license. That said, if you are turning over every research stone, it would be worthwhile to to try to get the application.

How can I match a pastor/priest to a church?

If the marriage license gives you the name of a pastor or priest but doesn't mention a church, try checking a city directory for the year of the marriage. If the church name isn't mentioned under the name in the alphabetical section, check the church section in the front of the directory.

Marriage Records Available on FamilySearch Microfilm

Cook County Marriage Indexes, 1871-1916

Cook County Marriage Index, 1871-1899

If you are looking for a pre-1900 marriage in Chicago or Cook County, try Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 at FamilySearch first. If you find a match there the index will tell you which Family History Library film the record is on. If you don't find the names there, try to find the bride or groom in the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index before searching the microfilm index described below.

About this Index
The Cook County Marriage Index for the years 1871-1899, is a series of handwritten registers with entries grouped by first letter of surname for each time period covered and arranged by license number (chronological) in ascending order. Groom indexes are available for the entire span; bride indexes are available from 21 November 1878 forward. Unlike the indexes after 1900, the groom indexes do not provide the name of the bride, and visa versa.

FHL Catalog
View Entry

Why search this index?
If you can't locate the license using the online indexes, it might be worth trying to find a matching entry on the microfilm. If you do, you can use the license number to locate the marriage license on microfilms available through Family History Centers.

Information included in the index

  • name of groom, if searching the groom index or name of bride, if searching the bride index
  • date the marriage license was issued
  • marriage license number

Search tips

(1) Because it's time-consuming to search these indexes, especially for common letters of the alphabet, it's useful to narrow the date before starting the search. Try searching the 1900 or 1910 censuses which asked the number of years a couple had been married or their ages at the time of the marriage or estimate the marriage date based on the birth of the first child.

(2) If you have a choice, search the alphabetic section that will have the fewest entries. In other words, if you have a choice between searching "S" in the groom index or "I" in the bride index, start with "I."

(3) The marriage index gives the date the license was issued, not necessarily the date the marriage occurred. For example, if a couple was married in January of 1888, the license could have been issued in December of 1887.

(4) If you don't find an entry in the groom index, it's probably worth checking the bride index, or visa versa.

(5) If you find an entry in a bride or groom index, it's possible to cross-check using the other index. In other words, if you are searching for a "John Smith" who married "Gertrude Miller" and find two "John Smiths" who married in 1898, it's possible to look in the bride index to see which license number was also issued to a "Gertrude Miller. This can save you time and money if you plan to order the license film.


Cook County Marriage Index, 1900-1916

If you are looking for a marriage in Chicago or Cook County up through 1920, try Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 at FamilySearch first. If you find a match there the license image is available for free download.

About this index
The Cook County Marriage Index for the years 1900-1916 is a computer-generated alphabetical index to marriage licenses that were issued in Cook County. It can be searched by bride or groom and is available on sixteen microfilms which can be requested through any Family History Center.

Format
17 microfilms

Arrangement
Alphabetical within each group of years
  
1900-1904 Grooms  (Aabye-Romai)        0378336 
1900-1904 Grooms  (Roman-Zywiciel)     0378337
1900-1904 Brides  (A Hearn-Nelson)     0378337
1900-1904 Brides  (Nelson-Zywicki)     0378338 
  
1905-1909 Grooms  (Aabye-Hicklin)      0378339   
1905-1909 Grooms  (Hicklin-Zywicki)    0378340   
1905-1909 Brides  (Aab-Koehler)        0378341   
1905-1909 Brides  (Koehler-Zyznar)     0378342  
 
1910-1914 Grooms  (A Hearn-Hartman)    0378343   
1910-1914 Grooms  (Hartmann-Philippus) 0378344   
1910-1914 Grooms  (Philips-Zyz)        0378345   
1910-1914 Brides  (Aageberg-Hoeling)   0378346  
1910-1914 Brides  (Hoellen-Prus)       0378347  
1910-1914 Brides  (Prus-Zynewska)      0378348 
  
1914 Brides/Grooms                     0378349   
1915 Brides/Grooms                     0378350   
1916 Brides/Grooms                     0378351

FHL Catalog
View Entry

Information included in the index
  • names of both bride and groom
  • date the marriage license was issued
  • marriage license number

Search tips
(1) Some of the later indexes include entries for certificates that were issued up to 1919, and in one case up to 1936, however, it is very unlikely that you will have success in finding a marriage entry beyond 1916 in this index.

(2) For some years, the index is not strictly alphabetical and you will find names like "Schmidt" intermixed with "Schmid."

(3) If there is no date in the index, it's likely that the license wasn't returned to the county and that it will be missing on the license film. In those cases, it may be possible to get a copy of the marrige application from the Cook County Clerk's office. Information on the application may include the names of the bride and groom and a residential address, but it won't provide parent names.

(4) If you want to order a film at your local Family History Center in order to search the index, this list may be helpful in deciding which reel you would need.

Cook County Marriage Licenses, 1871-1920

About these records
Marriage licenses were issued to a couple by the county clerk, completed and signed by the person who performed the ceremony, and then returned to the county. Occasionally there is a microfilmed note that says a license wasn't returned. This could indicate that the marriage never took place or that the document was never returned to the county. Neither the licenses nor the applications from this time period include parent names.

Indexing
Check FamilySearch's Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 index. If you don't find a match there, follow up with the indexes listed under the tab at the left.

Format
709 microfilm reels (includes index reels)

Arrangement
Licenses are arranged by license number which means that they are in chronological order according to when they were issued. After 1893, Chicago and Cook County (outside the city) licenses are separate within each 100 numbers on the films. The Cook County licenses come first, followed by the Chicago licenses.

Example:
234300 Cook
234301 Cook
234305 Cook
234307 Cook
(Note how the 234300s begin again)
234302 Chicago
234303 Chicago
234304 Chicago
234306 Chicago
234308 Chicago

FHL Catalog

View Entry

Information generally found on these records

  • groom's name, age and residence
  • bride's name, age and residence
  • date the license was issued
  • marriage date and place
  • name of the person who performed the ceremony
Sometimes a church name is given and occasionally witness names are recorded in the bottom margin of a license. Some licenses provide a space for a parent to sign if one of the individuals was underage.

Search tips
Although the early Cook County marriage licenses do not provide parent names, they can provide valuable clues for further research. For example, many times a church name is given, or if not, a priest's or pastor's name can often be matched to a particular church for a particular time period using city directories.