MARRIAGE RECORDS BY COUNTRY
Because the United States has no state church, marriages were usually kept by civil authorities according to laws passed by the individual states. (Churches also kept marriage records. Search for local church records as well as vital records.) Most states require that the local town or county clerk record and maintain marriage records with copies sent to a state vital record office starting in the twentieth century.
•New England: marriages are kept by local town clerks and date to the early 1600s though many early marriages may have only been recorded with the church.
•Mid-Atlantic: New York and Pennsylvania did not require civil marriage registration until 1881 and 1885 respectively. New Jersey and Delaware counties have marriage records dating from the 1660s (or the creation of the county).
•South: Counties recorded marriages starting in the early 1700s (except South Carolina where they began in 1911).
•Midwest: Counties recorded marriages as soon as each county was formed.
•West: Western states vary greatly in their registration of marriage records though most counties were keeping marriage records by 1890 or at the time the county was created.
In Canada, vital records are kept by the individual provinces (with the exception of the First Nations whose records are the responsibility of the federal government). Some provinces started keeping marriage records as early as the 1860s with the entire country (with the exception of Quebec) recording marriages by the 1920s. With its French influence, Quebec’s marriage records were primarily copies of church records and the civil government did not start keeping separate records until 1994.
England and Wales
Until 1837, marriages were recorded by the Parish Priests of the Church of England and can be found in the Parish Registers. (Legal marriages could only take place in the Church of England with the exception of Jews and Quakers.) Starting on 1 July 1837, marriages were recorded by the registrar of civil registration districts (covering several Parishes). Marriage registers were forwarded to the Registrar General Office for England and Wales.
Though some civil marriage records were kept earlier (depending on the locality), civil registration became mandatory on 1 January 1876. Prior to that date, marriages were kept by the churches, which required that marriage records were kept as early as the 1500s.
Early marriages records in Sweden were kept by the local minister of the Lutheran State Church. Starting in 1688, ministers were required to keep engagement and marriage records. In 1860, the government asked ministers to submit copies of births, marriages, and deaths to the Central Bureau of Statistics annually. The church continued to record marriages until 1950 when the civil authorities started registering their own original records.