Monday, January 6, 2020

Research Tips: Marriage and Divorce Records

Marriage license for Taylor Kirkpatric and
Sarah Bishop in Hempstead County, 1869,
Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives
Researchers frequently ask: “How can we find marriage and divorce records – especially divorce records?” These documents give researchers vital clues about their ancestors’ lives, but finding out where they are located can be tricky.

Arkansas marriage records are filed in county courthouses and recorded in each county’s own designated book. Arkansas has 75 counties, but some counties have more than one courthouse or county seat. The task may seem daunting, but there are a few indexes that will help.

The Arkansas State Archives has printed marriage indexes available for many counties. The Archives also hold marriage records from all 75 counties on microfilm. Arkansas vital records also produced a marriage index on microfiche, but it only covers 1933 to 1939.

In Arkansas, county marriage records do not include parents’ names or dates of birth for the individuals getting married. Some states, like Ohio, do include this information. Arkansas’s records, however, will give you the residences of the individuals getting married and their ages. If one of the people getting married is underage, researchers can sometimes find a note attached from the parents or guardians that gives the couple permission to wed.

Marriage records can provide the foundation to interesting backstories. For example, if you find a note “do not publish” written on the license, it means the couple didn’t want the marriage announced in the newspaper. Sometimes couples even went to different counties to avoid people knowing they were getting married. Finding those records can reveal aspects about your relatives’ lives you never knew.

If you can’t find a marriage record in the county you think your ancestors married in, you might look in newspapers. Many local newspapers published names of people who took out marriage licenses in the county. The Arkansas State Archives holds thousands of rolls of microfilm from newspapers across Arkansas, and the odds are good you can find one for the area you’re researching.

Some newspapers ran articles on recent engagements and marriages. You might find a blurb about your ancestors getting married, the dress she wore or other information. That information can lead you to find out where they wed and if a license was applied for in a different county.

Lastly, you might check church records for a mention in the minutes or register. The Arkansas State Archives keeps hundreds of church minutes, registers, rolls and more in its archives. These records can be found in a resource guide on our website at

Divorce records can be a little trickier to find. Divorce records are also filed at a county level. Generally, divorce records are filed in chancery or civil courts unless, like in Pulaski County, they have designated a specific book for divorces. Divorce records are county records, but on occasion, you may have to look at circuit court records to find them.

Early divorce cases are somewhat rare, but they did happen. In Arkansas, women could not file for divorce. On some records, you will find the words: “on her account or her friend,” which means a male filed for her. Later, in the late 1800s, women could and did file on their own account.

After finding when the couple divorced, the next step is to look at the loose court records, if they exist. These records will have all the trial transcripts filed to justify the dissolution of the marriage. Many of the early county records are available on microfilm at the Arkansas State Archives. For more modern divorce records you may need to contact the county courthouse or search through online databases such as the Administrative Office of the Courts CourtConnect website at

For many researchers trying to narrow down when a divorce happened can be a challenge. Many of these records have indexes at the beginning of the county records, but if you can’t find information there, you can again turn to newspapers. In the same section where the marriages are published, newspapers often listed divorces. You can eliminate counties by browsing through the areas you suspect the divorce took place. However, there is a small chance the divorce wasn’t published.

Next month, we will look at wills and probate records and how to use them in your research.

Researchers who need help can contact our staff. We are here to provide some research services and to help individuals start their genealogical research. Find more information about our services by contacting the Arkansas State Archives at 501-682-6900 or start researching by visiting our website. Researchers may also find records online through our online catalog.