History of King County marriage certificates, 1853 to the present
The marriage certificate is the official documentation that a marriage has occurred and serves as a legal, civil contract. The marriage certificate form has traditionally been completed by the officiator after the ceremony and recorded with the appropriate county agency: Probate Court (1852-1891); County Clerk (1891-1947); County Auditor (1947-1969); and Recorder's Office (1969-present).
Originally, marriage records were only filed with individual counties in Washington State. In 1968, marriage record keeping was centralized in Washington State and marriage certificates began to be filed at the state level. King County continued keeping their own version of marriage certificates until 2002. Beginning in 2002, only one state-level marriage certificate is filed.
For marriages between 1853 and 1927, there will be one marriage certificate filed in the county where the marriage took place.
For marriages between 1927 and 1947, there will be one marriage certificate filed in the county where the marriage took place (a copy will also be at the county where the license was issued, if different.)
For marriages between 1947 and 1967, there will be one marriage certificate filed in the county where the license was issued.
For marriages between 1968 and 2002, there will be two marriages certificates; one filed with the state and the other in the county where the license was issued.
For marriages between 2002 and present, there will be one marriage certificate; identical copies are available both from the state and the county where the license was issued.
After the certificates were returned to the county by the officiator, they were recorded by the appropriate county agency at the time (see above). Originally, this was done by transcribing them into ledger volumes. Recorded volumes exist through 1923 in King County. After this date, the certificates forms themselves were bound in volumes rather than transcribed.
The certificates are organized roughly by the date they were returned to the county. Until 1927, the certificates were required to be returned within 3 months of the marriage. Since 1927, the certificates have been required to be returned within 30 days of the ceremony. Many certificates were still returned and filed well beyond the time limit required by law. There are isolated cases of officiators waiting as long as 14 years to return certificates after marriages were officiated.
Originally, there was no requirement for information to be included on the certificates. Since 1866, required information has been the names of the couple prior to marriage, residences of the couple, date of the marriage, place of marriage, name of the officiator, names of two witnesses and the license issue date and location. Certificates from 1952-2002 also include the places of birth of the couple. Certificates from 1952-1999 include the ages of the couple and certificates from 1999-2002 include the dates of birth of the couple.
In 2002, the county-level certificate form was discontinued and the county began recording the state-level certificates instead.
From 1855 to 1927, we have certificates for marriages that took place in King County, regardless of where the license was issued. From 1927 to 1946, we have certificates for marriages that took place in King County as well as marriages that took place in other counties on authorization of licenses issued in King County. From 1947 to present, there are only certficates for marriages that resulted from licenses issued in King County, regardless of where the marriage took place.
The Washington State Digital Archives (external link) has digital images online from 1855 to 1989. They also provide certified copies.
The King County Archives has original certificates from 1855 to 2002. We provide photocopies and certified copies.
The Washington State marriage certificates contain different information than the King County marriage certificates. State Law (RCW 70.58.055) requires that marriage certificates filed with the state contain the same information that appears on the U.S. Standard Certificate of Marriage. For a complete list of all information that appears on Washington State marriage certificates (1968-present), please see Table 6 of WAC 246-491-149 (external link).
The Washington Center for Health Statistics Office (external link) has certificates for all counties in Washington state from 1968 to present. They provide certified copies only, which begin at $20 per certificate.
The King County Archives has certificates for marriages resulting from King County licenses from 2002 to present. We provide scans, photocopies, and certified copies.
Index: The Washington State Library (external link) in Tumwater keeps an index of all marriages in Washington state between 1968 and 2004. You can search these microfiche indexes in person or request a look-up online (external link).The County began recording state-level certificates in 2002, and these can be found on the Recorder's online search site.
Indexes to marriage certificates, 1853-present
These various finding aids can be used to determine dates of marriage and to locate marriage certificates.
1855-1989 - Online on the Washington State Digital Archives. Index entries are also linked to downloadable digital images of the certificates.
1979-present - Online on the Recorder's Office Website.
The online index contains the names of the couple, the date of the marriage and the certificate number (last 6 digits of the instrument number). The website indicates a start date in 1975, yet the index actually begins in 1979. Entries are sporadic from 1979-1982 and excludes 1985 and 1986.
1853-1900 - Online at the King County Archives Website. This is the most complete index for marriages through 1900 because it indexes all available types of marriage records.
1853-1990 - At the King County Archives. Original volumes from 1853-1983 and copies on microfilm from 1853-1990.
Entries from 1853 to 1894 include the name of one party while entries since 1894 include the names of both parties. Entries from 1853-1922 also include the certificate number and the recorded volume and page number. Entries from 1923-1947 also include date of marriage and individual who officiated the marriage. Entries since 1947 also include the date of license issuance and omit the recorded volume and page number or the officiator's name. These records may be searched semi-alphabetically by volume (which usually includes a span of a few years).
1968-2004 - At the Washington State Library (external link) in Tumwater. These microfiche cards index all marriages in Washington State for these years. You can request a lookup online (external link). This method of searching might be most helpful if you are unsure of the county where the license was issued. Copies of these indexes are also located at the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library (external link).
Originally, King County recorded marriages by transcribing the certificates into these ledger volumes. For some of the earliest marriages, these are the only records that still exist. Since these ledgers contain transcriptions of the certificates, the information contained is usually the same as was in the original record. Because of differences in legibility, it can be helpful to consult both the original certificate and the certificate transcription.
The King County Archives holds the volumes from 1853-1888.
Lists of filed marriage certificates, 1889-1916
These are periodic lists that display the marriage certificates that were filed in Probate Court (1889-1891) or with the County Clerk (1891-1916) during the given time periods (one month from 1889 to 1913 and one day from 1914 to 1916). Lists from 1889-1890 only include the names of the couple and the date of the marriage license issuance. Lists from 1891-1896 have not been kept. Lists from 1908-1913 only include names of the couple and the license number. Lists from 1914-1916 only include one surname associated with the marriage and the license number. These records do not include any unique information that cannot be found in other marriage records, but can be useful in researching marriages with missing documentation. Since these lists were usually typed, they may provide a more legible reading of the parties names compared to other handwritten marriage documentation. For records from 1897 to 1901, this series also includes correspondence and receipts from other Washington counties in situations where a couple used a King County marriage license to marry in another county or when they used a different county's license to marry in King County.
The King County Archives holds these records.