11 May 2017

New York City Marriage Licenses, 1907-1995: Machine Searchable and Online!

Reclaim the Records continues to impact availability of records. Today in my usual daily search for what's new on a variety of genealogy websites, I noted that Ancestry has posted a new database: "New York City, Marriage Indexes, 1907-1995."

About four years ago, I ordered and received my parents' marriage license application from the New York City Clerk's Office. I posted about it here. I had been able to order it because I had gone to the Municipal Archives and, knowing when my parents had married (9 February 1947), browsed through microfilm until I found the indexed record. I did the same for my father's parents' marriage license and affidavit, although I was able to acquire the actual record from the Municipal Archives.

Recently, Brooke Schreier Ganz and Reclaim the Records made the process much easier when they forced the hand of New York City agencies (the Municipal Archives and the Clerk's Office) and acquired and arranged for digitization of pages from index books for these records.

The records, now online at Internet Archive, have been wonderful. They do require a bit of researcher effort, however, to find the marriage records one seeks. The book indexes are organized by borough, year, quarter of the year and then grouped alphabetically (and separately) for grooms and brides. If one can narrow the time frame for when a couple may have married, one may locate the name of either the bride or groom and then confirm the record in the index by checking for the name of his/her spouse.

There is an ongoing volunteer effort to index these records via Crowd Source Indexing (CSI). And I encourage participation in these kinds of volunteer efforts - especially since the indexes created in the CSI platform will, ultimately, be freely available.

In the meantime, however, access to indexed records via Ancestry (using a personal or library subscription) is a great option. It has been Reclaim the Records' notion that these records should be freely available to all. Thus, Ancestry could upload them, as well. Ancestry has added value by creating their own index.

One of the records I'd been trying to locate was for the marriage of my great uncle Max Liebross and his first wife, Anna Bernstein. For some unknown reason, their nuptials are not listed in any of the standard online NYC marriage indexes that go through 1937 (Italian Genealogy Group and German Genealogy Group, Ancestry or FamilySearch). But, a few weeks ago, browsing the Internet Archive database, I was able to locate Max and Anna's application for their license.

Fig. 1. Max Liebross NYC Marriage License index page, detail
Fig. 2. Anne Berkowitz NYC Marriage License index page, detail
To be sure I had the correct record for the correct couple, I had to check both brides' and grooms' indexes separately.

I ordered the record, shown below from the Municipal Archives. 

Fig. 3. Affidavit for License to Marry, Max Liebross and Anne Berkowitz, 8 April 1912
Unfortunately, Rabbi Gottshalk, who married Max and Anne, did not, apparently, return the clergyman's part of the record. There was only one page filed. In contrast, see my grandparents' record). I now know that Max and Anne married sometime after 8 April 1912, when they applied for their license, and I can start searching for their marriage certificate, if there is one. 

Ancestry's index matches up brides and grooms, which simplifies the search process. If I search on Max Liebross in 1912 I will immediately see his intended's name in the search results, assuring that I have the correct couple.

Even better, however, if I search on Max Liebross with no year specified, I can find all three of his marriages (I had thought there were only two!). These indexed records were not available to me because the existing online indexes for certificates, mentioned previously, only go through 1937. I knew about Anne because she was the mother of Max's children. I knew about Fanny because she is buried in Mount Lebanon Cemetery with other Liebross relatives. I had no idea about Gussie.

The record one will view if one clicks on View Record, is the handwritten index page (similar to the detail shown in Figure 1, above).

One peculiar thing about Ancestry's new database is the contrast between what may be searched and what may be browsed. Search results seem to locate records within the time frame indicated in the title of the database: 1907-1995. But the listings in the browse area are not as comprehensive.

The following years may be browsed for the New York City boroughs:
  • Bronx 1914-1951
  • Brooklyn 1908-1951
  • Manhattan 1908-1951
  • Queens 1908-1953
  • Staten Island 1908-1960
Ordinarily, I would expect more records to be available for browsing than than searching via an index. But, in this case, go ahead and search first. 

I searched for my grandfather Jack Garber's second marriage (after my grandmother died in 1954). I found the following in Ancestry's database.

So, it appears that those records not yet included for browsing may have been indexed with no image attached.

Well, don't call or write me this evening. I will be busy.


  1. One thing to keep in mind while searching this database is that, while Ancestry states that records from 1907 to 1951 represent indexes of marriage certificates, they in actuality appear to represent indexes of marriage licenses, rather than indexes of certificates of actual marriages. Thus the dates in these records represent the date of the marriage license, with the marriage occurring sometime later. The marriage location may also differ than the from the location in which the marriage license was issued.

  2. Thank you, Anonymous, for your comment. Yes, absolutely! And, I believe, I was careful to say that in this post. For example, once I located Max Liebross' 1912 marriage license record and no similarly indexed certificate, the best I could say is that he and Anna Bernstein married sometime soon after their license was issued. It has been my experience that usually couple married within a week or two of the license application. I have found, however, a few cases where the couple did not marry soon after. In one case, after not following up their license with a marriage (as shown with a certificate), they reapplied for a license several months later and then did follow through and get married.

    1. It would be nice if Ancestry would clarify that the NYC marriage license and marraige certificates are not the same animal and that the license date does not necessarily (and probably doesn't) match the actual marriage date.


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