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

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

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 (indicated in the index with *), Chicago Evening Journal ($), Chicago Democrat (#), Chicago Times (%), 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 the 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.

Some of the matching records can be found in Ancestry's Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 which includes the Chicago Tribune, 1850-1985.

Church Marriage Records

Check Research Tutorial > Church Records for availability.

Check An Index at Home

Begin your search for Cook County Marriage licenses using the Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 index at FamilySearch.

Visit a Family History Center to Retrieve the Record

If you find a match, you will be able to download the corresponding license for free IF you visit a Family History Center or an affiliate library. (These images can't be viewed from home.)

Finding the images is easy. Using a Family History Center computer (or your laptop connected to Family History Center wireless), choose Search > Catalog > Film/Fiche Number and search for the film or folder number given in the index entry. Click through on the record set title, locate the film or folder number, and click on the camera icon. Once the page loads, type the image number from the index entry into the upper left-hand corner to navigate to the matching certificate.

These records are the same ones that used to be accessed on microfilm. You can read about them in detail by clicking on the "Cook County Marriage Licenses, 1871-1920" link in the right-hand column.

Note: The index entries provide a link for purchasing and viewing the corresponding licenses on the Cook County Clerk's website. This is an option, but it is more expensive than obtaining the same image from FamilySearch.

No Match? Check Another Index

If you can't find a match in the FamilySearch index, try the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index which covers Cook marriages up through 1900. Or, try Ancestry's Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871-1920. Also check Ancestry's Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942, but know that it appears to primarily cover 1914-1923.

The Illinois index provides a license number that can be used to find the record online at FamilySearch from a Family History Center computer. Go to Illinois, Cook County marriages, 1871-1920. Use the marriage license number to choose the correct film. Click on the camera icon to navigate to the images. Use the license number to find the correct record.

The Ancestry index provides the film number, but no license number. Unless you can get the license number from the FamilySearch index, you will need to page through the images to find the record. Start with licenses issued on the marriage date and work backwards.

Note: The licenses are arranged in numerical order BUT within each hundred records, the County licenses may be separate from the City licenses. If, for example, you don't find 143253 in the "right" spot, scroll forward and/or back to find another sequence of 143200s.

Still No Luck?

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)

Need Help Retrieving Licenses?

If you don't have convenient access to a Family History Center, IRAD at NEIU will send you the records, 1871-1915, for the cost of the photocopy. Or, if you want a digital image, Genlighten provider chicagogenealogy offers a quick retrieval service for $5 or less per record.

Another option is 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.



FamilySearch for 1921-1942

Ancestry's Cook County, Illinois Marriage Indexes, 1912-1942 seems to be a reliable index for the years 1914-1923. (See blog post for explanation.) If you need a license from 1921-1923, start there. (If you need a license through 1920, see that tab.)

If you find a match, note the names, the date, and the serial number. You will be able to download the corresponding license for free IF you visit a Family History Center or an affiliate library. (These images can't be viewed from home.)

Using a Family History Center computer (or your laptop connected to Family History Center wireless), go to Illinois, Cook County, marriage records, 1920-1950. Use the serial number to choose the correct folder number and click on the camera icon next to it. Once the page loads, user the serial number to locate the correct license.

Ancestry's Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1930-1960 appears to be a reliable index for the dates mentioned. If you find a match for 1930-1942, it should be possible to find the matching record on FamilySearch in the database linked above but you might have to page through images to find the correct one.

The license images from 1943-1960 are listed, but not published on FamilySearch.

And what about a public marriage license index for 1924-1929? If you know of one, please let me know. It may be possible to find a license browsing the images on FamilySearch (see link above), if an approximate marriage date is known. Otherwise, contact the County Clerk's Office for a search.

Cook County Clerk's Office for 1943 and Later

If you need a marriage license from 1943 or later that is at least 50 years old, check Genealogy Online: Historical Cook County, Illinois Vital Records to see if the license is available for purchase and download. If not, submit a manual search request to the Cook County Clerk's Office.

Alternate sources of information include:

In a Nutshell

There are very few marriage records before 1871. Get marriage records from 1871-1920 from FamilySearch. 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.

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.

FHL Catalog
View Entry

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

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.