Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our ancestors had birth, marriage and death records? And shouldn’t those records clearly and accurately state places and dates and relationships that will quickly grow our tree?
Yes. In a perfect world. And genealogy is not a perfect world.
I know from census records that Wyatt Paul Gillespie and Laura Cecile Donald were most likely married between 1893 and 1896 in either Rockbridge or Amherst County, Virginia.
Click through and look at the left hand side. Since we are looking for information on specific counties, we can click on County research:
Which will lead you to the United States County List:
And now we can take a closer look at the Counties of Amherst and Rockbridge.
The County of Amherst tells us that Amherst County began keeping marriage records in 1763. You’ll find the same information for Rockbridge County.
You also see that there is a link to Virginia Family History Research, which has a link on the right to Virginia Vital Records. This page tells us that after 1853 state law required counties to issue marriage licenses and keep marriage registers. And they should contain full names, ages, places of birth and residence, proposed marriage date and place, marital status and a few other goodies. Now this is a useful vital record!
Vital records are kept by state, not at the federal level, so we should probably start on a state page. You can find them on the map at the bottom of the Search Tab.
If we go to the Virginia page, we see the first few entries for Virginia, Birth, Marriage and Death, do not have what we are after. So we can click the “View All” link.
This shows us that there are two data collections that may have what we are after, and yes, those are really two different data collections.
The first, you will find – after looking at the description – has Marriage Records for Rockbridge and the second doesn’t have records for either.
And if you do a search in the first, you will find no entry for Wyatt and Laura! But why? Look at the description and we’ll learn why. The records for this data collection only go up to 1885, and we are pretty sure that Wyatt and Laura were married between 1893 and 1896.
So the marriage record exists somewhere, probably the courthouse. It just hasn’t worked it’s way onto Ancestry.com yet.
Now you might be asking yourself, why not just search and see what you find? And you can do that. But it saves you a bit of time if you know whether you are looking for something that exists. If your searches keep coming up blank, it’s good to know why.
Want to learn more? Watch Crista Cowan’s What Genealogy Records Exist?, part of her Barefoot Genealogist series on YouTube.
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.