Recently I was contacted by a client with an interesting conundrum: all four of his grandparents are Italian born, but due to naturalization dates he only qualifies on one side. Unfortunately, the marriage certificate of one set of his grandparents is missing. The entire application for Italian citizenship jure sanguinis relies on documenting an unbroken line of Italian citizenship from grandparents to him.
So, what do you do when you find yourself in a similar situation where you are unable to find a marriage certificate?
There are a number of ways to track down a "missing" document:
1. Churches have often recorded marriages long before other official bodies did
Churches began recording marriages before counties and states did. They are an obvious choice as an alternative to a civil marriage record. Determine what churches were around at the time you think your grandparents got married; then search those closest to where they lived or that shared an ethnic affiliation with your relatives (you can find references to churches in death and other records). You might have to make a call to the church and find it's easily located.
But if the church no longer exists, it might take a little digging. Many denominations have their own archives, while others may be held at a local or state historical society. Don't overlook the possibility that a local group has made the records available online. Searching the church name in a search engine could bring you an unexpected surprise. What city do you think they were married in? Try googling (Name of town) Church records 1800-1940 (or whatever years you think they were married in).
2. Local newspapers can be a rich source of family history
You can also look to local newspapers. They may have run notices of your grandparents' engagement or marriage. Look for tidbits in social columns as well as sections which regularly listed marriages and engagements. You can even see historical newspapers on ancestry.com (click here: http://search.ancestry.com/search/category.aspx?cat=149&o_iid=23560&o_lid=23560&o_sch=Web+Property). You can look for notices of anniversaries, especially memorable ones like 25th and 50th in local newspapers. Therein you could find details about original marriage dates, places and names of witnesses or a guest list of anniversary party attendees that could include other family members you could track down and ask.
3. Tinkering with the numbers (or, doing a little bit of math)
When you can't find marriage records, estimate the marriage date based on the age of the first child (subtract a year, just to be safe). And bear in mind that there are a number of factors capable of throwing this estimate off.
And when in doubt, if you've exhausted all of these possibilities, you can always hire me to help you! I work with an excellent genealogist as a team, and we can help track down this record for you.
In bocca al lupo.
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