According to the Genealogical Proof Standard:
Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. In order to merit confidence, each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as "proved." As stated on the Board for Certification of Genealogy website.We should always be looking for as many documents that "prove" the facts about our ancestors. In order to draw an accurate conclusion, we must do a reasonably exhaustive search and collect as much data as we can to either prove or disprove the events/facts. So really, the more the merrier. When it comes to proving a marriage, there are many different sources to consider. Depending on the time period and location will determine where to look and what to find. But that is a post for a different day. So far in my research I have run into Marriage Licenses, Marriage Certificates, Marriage Registers and Church Registers. There are more types to consider, but I have not personally run into these. So my post is going to be focused on these topics.
A marriage license is a document you must obtain from the county clerk before you get married. A marriage certificate is a document that proves you are married. Typically, couples obtain a marriage license, hold the wedding ceremony, and then have the person who performed the ceremony file a marriage certificate in the appropriate county office within a few days. This may be the office of the county clerk, recorder or registrar, depending on where you live. The married couple will then be sent a certified copy of the marriage certificate. Most states require both spouses, along with the person who officiated and one or two witnesses, to sign the marriage certificate. This is often done just after the ceremony.
As you can see, licenses have different information than certificates. Both are acceptable forms of proof for marriage. Licenses are easier to locate because they are usually available through the county or state they were married. If they were married in a church, the name of the church (and address) is provided. Sometimes the church does not exist anymore, but the church records can still be found.
Sometimes, licenses or certificates are not available. That was the case with my great grandparents. Through Family Search, I was able to locate the marriage register that listed my great grandparents. They were married in Michigan. This register was very helpful because it listed the parents of each person and the witnesses present along with dates and places of residence.
If you have a copies of the License or the Certificate, they will sometimes have the Church listed where the marriage was officiated. This will provide more records for your proof. Although you do not need to have those in order to find the church your relative was married in. That was the case with my grandma's first marriage. I could not locate a certificate or license for this marriage, but I had photographic proof it did occur. My aunt gave me the tip of looking at a map of churches at our local library. I found the street where my grandma was living at the time and the nearest churches within the proximity of that location. So I checked the records of those particular churches for any possible evidence of their marriage. Luckily, I found them in the index of one of the churches. That register provided a lot of information that included parents names, churches they attended, maiden names of the mothers, and other details. I had to take multiple photos of the register to make sure I included all the important data.
St. Boniface Church Registry
As you go back father into time, the records get more primitive. They end up being mainly paragraphs of information. Below are some examples:
I hope this has made the differences between Marriage Certificates, Licenses and Registers a little more clear. If you have the opportunity, try to collect all of them. Again, the more proof the better!