Friday, May 27, 2011

Face to Face with a Marriage License Clerk

It's funny how things happen.

This morning my husband was reading The Ancestry Insider and the blog post linked to a FamilySearch Wiki entry titled "Gretna Greens in the United States" and he sent me the link.

I knew I'd seen articles in the Chicago Tribune about the topic so I logged into and did a quick search and suddenly found myself face to face with Cook County's "Marriage License Clerk Salmonson." Did you ever wonder what the County Clerk's office was like at the turn of the century? Take a look at this photo and imagine yourself next in line to get a marriage license. "Name? How do you spell that? Residence? Age?" Peer into the photo below to see the clerk's office through your ancestors' eyes.

I've often wished that I could talk to some of the clerks from days gone by. I'd love to ask them about the records that they kept--how they were created and organized and stored. This is kind of a next best thing.

The article is from The Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1902, p. 56 and I located it using Click on the image to enlarge it to full size.

Chicago, by the way, was a popular place for eloping couples to marry. And if you're looking for a "Chicago" marriage that's nowhere to be found, try places like St. Joseph, Michigan (Marriage Index, 1889-1925) and Lake County, Indiana (Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 at


Julie Cahill Tarr said...

Hi Cynthia,

Interesting article...thanks for sharing. I do have a question for you. You mentioned to look in St. Joseph, MI and Lake Co., IN for marriages. Obviously, they are nearby, but are there other reasons to have married in these places? I have a 2nd great grandparents who lived in Chicago and married in Lake Co., in 1899. I have no idea why, and just happened to find it in a general search on Ancestry. The actual record didn't help much, but I'm pretty certain it's the correct couple, just have no idea why they would cross the border, especially since they resided on the west side of the city. Any insight you could provide would certainly be welcome!

Cynthia said...

Hi Julie. I don't have a specific answer to your question but a number of years ago I got hooked on reading a legal advice column in some of the older issues of the Chicago Tribune and I seem to remember people asking a number of questions about marriage laws in other places--things like "Can I divorce one place and go somewhere else to marry to avoid a waiting period?" Unfortunately, I can't remember the details from the answers that were given.

I also remember reading an article about how St. Joseph was an easy day trip by boat. Maybe that was the forerunner of today's destination weddings!

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