How to Find Chicago Marriage Records

Pre-Fire Chicago Marriage Licenses

Because of the Chicago fire, 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

Catholic:
Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic parish records have been filmed to c. 1915 and browsable digital images are available online at FamilySearch.

If you'd rather use the microfilm, check the Family History Library Catalog to see what's available. Do a place search for "Chicago" and then select "Church Records."

Other Denominations:

See Newberry Library's Guide to Chicago Church and Synagogue Records.

If you know of other pre-fire church marriage records, please let me know so that they can be added to the list.


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, I can retrieve the record for you for $6 if you submit a Cook County Marriage Licenses, 1871-1916 request through Genlighten.com. You can also obtain a copy of the record from Family History Library microfilm or directly from the Cook County Clerk's Office.

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)

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 cost is $15 + a $1.75 handling fee if you purchase the record online.

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:

Marriage Records Available through FamilySearch

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.

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.