Obtaining an Old NYC Marriage Certificate

For my next book, I need two marriage certificates, from 1919 and c. 1905/08. Now, I have never had any trouble with other states—or countries—getting death, birth and marriage lisences. But on the NYC web site, they say you have to be the bride or groom (all long dead), or state some judicial or “other proper purpose” why you need it (being a biographer probably will cut no ice with them).

Does anyone work for the NYC gov’t., or have any friends who do, who can help me out with shortcuts or suggestions?

31 Centre Street. I got a copy of my great-grandparent’s wedding certificate (1913) from there. You don’t have to be a relative. You walk in, find it, get it copied and walk out.

Zev Steinhardt

If you want, I’ll even help you find it (I work downtown, about two blocks away).

Zev Steinhardt

At the Municipal Archives at 31 Centre, you can get any NYC birth certificate (up to 1910), death certificate (up to 1948) or marriage certificate (up to 1930) just by searching. You only need to provide proof if you are getting your records from the Dept. of Vital Statistics (on Worth St.), which covers records after the dates above.

Zev Steinhardt

Ooooh, Zev, darling, could you walk me through it? The problem is, I don’t have much info on the earlier one—just an approximate year. They could even have taken the ferry and gotten married in Hoboken, the bastards!

How long does it usually take? Could I take the subway downtown and get it done in a lunch hour? Thanks again for the help!

P.S. I’ll try first via that form you linked to and let you know if it works! Thanks!

And now that I’m thinking on the matter, I also got another set of great-grandparent’s marriage certificate there. They were married on 1/5/1919. And their last name wasn’t Steinhardt. No questions were asked.

As an aside, the story went around my family that we were related to George Burns. My grandmother’s maiden name is Birnbaum, and that was Burns’ real last name. So, knowing the date he was born (easy to find out), I went there to get his birth certificate, hoping to find some evidence. I got the BC, but no evidence that we were related. This, BTW, was while he was still alive.

Anyway, Eve the offer stands, if you need help finding it. Just drop me an email.

Zev Steinhardt


IIRC, they are indexed by name and bourough. If you don’t know the borough, you will have to search through each of them. I’m assuming you have the bride’s maiden name, as well as the groom’s name.

Depends on how long the search takes. Also, you may have to wait a few minutes for a machine. It could easily take more than an hour if you don’t find it right away. It could also end up taking just 10 minutes.

Zev Steinhardt

Just as a side note – if you have a few hours to kill, going down in person is a great move from the research point of view. It also gives you the opportunity to check the city directories to find out where they lived and, once you have some addresses, you can get the records from the State census, which was done in 1905, 15 & 25, for more information. Likewise, since there is no New York Soundex index for the 1910 or 1930 censuses, you’ll need the address to find them.

Zev Steinhardt

I will have to trek down there someday, thanks . . . I just dropped into the mail the request for those two cert’s., and will let you know what develops!

You’re welcome. Glad I could be of help. Please keep us informed.

Zev Steinhardt

So, Eve, did you ever get those marriage certificates?

Zev Steinhardt

Nope—turns out that subject was so difficult to research (I could find very little at all on her life before her mid-20s) that I am casting about for someone else to write about. Thanks for asking, though!

Just for your information, Eve, New York State (I don’t know if the city had a local ordinance preceding this) adopted the requirement for a marriage license as of January 1, 1908.

The reason I happen to know this is that my maternal grandparents were the last couple married without a license – my mother said in the state, but I suspect this was exaggerated from “in the county” – on December 31, 1907.

Hey, do they cover Yonkers in that archive?

BTW, I once requested an NYC marriage certificate by mail (for my great-grandparents). They couldn’t find it for me (I suspect there was never a civil marriage, just a religious one, and good luck searching every extant and defunct synagogue in all 5 boroughs, as I have no idea where they lived or got married). They did, however, send me copies of 3 other couples’ certificates who had similar names, in hopes that they would be the right one. So much for privacy.

All I wrote on the form in the “purpose of request” space was “geneaological research.” I bet you could even just write “research,” and nobody would care.