Skip to main content

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 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!
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!

Popular posts from this blog

Chicago Lying-In Hospital Birth Records

When I look at birth certificates, I focus on names and dates and places--information I can add to a family tree. When I look at hospital records, I come face to face with the realities of giving birth. I think the records from the Chicago Lying-In Hospital and its satellite clinics provide fascinating and important family history details and I believe they merit a closer look. The hospital records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) as Chicago, Illinois birth records, 1896-1933 . The added author is Northwestern Memorial Hospital and I think the originals are most likely held by the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Archives . These hospital books document services provided by four clinics connected to Dr. Joseph Bolivar DeLee, the physician who founded the Chicago Lying-In Dispensary at Maxwell Street and Newberry Avenue in 1895. D r. DeLee was interested in improving birthing conditions and his clinics offered care to needy women while providing train

Chicago Telephone Books, 1878-1971

This morning my husband and I drove down to the Harold Washington Library at 400 S. State in Chicago so I could explore the resources available at the library for Chicago research—specifically telephone books and newspapers other than the Chicago Tribune . There was a public parking lot just around the corner from the library and the all-day weekend fee was $10.00. Not bad. (During the week parking would cost about $21 but it's easy and inexpensive to get to the library by public transportation, too.) This blog post will focus on telephone books. The first Chicago telephone book appears to be The Telephone Journal , vol. 1, no. 1, published in October 1878. (For a short history of the telephone in Chicago see's page for Illinois Bell Telephone .) The first book includes information about the telephone service along with a three-page “List of Subscribers”--names of businesses and a few individuals along with an address and numbers for “wire” and “call.”

Preparing to Retrieve Locked Images from FamilySearch

Once you reach this page, save the URL so it will be easy to get back to the image when you visit the family history center. Sometimes people email me to ask how to find the Chicago vital records that are indexed on  FamilySearch . Here's a quick answer to that question. The first step is to see if the record is available for free on FamilySearch.  Here's how to do that: 1) Find the index entry and click on the arrow to open the "Document Information." 2. Note the digital folder number and the image number. 3. Go to the FamilySearch Catalog and select Film/Fiche Number under "Search For." 4. Search for the digital folder number. 5. Click on the title link for the record collection that contains the digital folder. 6. Find the digital folder number. Is there a camera-with-a-key icon next to it? Good news! You should be able to find the record on FamilySearch . Click on the camera icon and read on! Is the camera icon missing? Then please scroll to the bottom