My Parents Were Wed in a “Gretna Green Marriage”

by , under Ancestry.com, Internet, Marriages, New York, Vital Records

During his presentation on “Until Death Do Us Part: An Examination of Marriage and Divorce Records” at the Cuyahoga Valley Genealogical Society meeting on May 6, Tom Neel, Ohio Genealogical Society library director, mentioned “Gretna Green marriages.” He cited marriages that occurred in locations other than where you might expect, often involving young couples. Specifically, he mentioned people living in northwestern Ohio being married across the border in Michigan.

My own parents were married in similar circumstances, but they traveled from Andover, Ashtabula County, Ohio to Chautauqua County, New York, to be married by a justice of the peace in Westfield. Years ago, when I learned about this travel to get married, I contacted the Chautauqua County Clerk’s office to learn if my parents, in fact, did get married there and if so to purchase a copy of their marriage certificate.

Later, I learned that my in-laws also were married in Chautauqua County, but in Ripley, which is just inside the county’s western boundary. I was able to confirm the existence of a marriage certificate for them and obtain a copy through the same county clerk’s office.

So where does the term Gretna Green come from for such marriages? I turned to Google to search for an explanation and up came an entry in Wikipedia entitled simply Gretna Green. Go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gretna_Green. Here is how that article starts out:

“Gretna Green is a parish in the southern county of Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, and is situated close on the borders of Scotland and England, defined by the small river Sark, which flows into the estuary of the western contiguous Solway Firth. It was historically the first village in Scotland, following the old coaching route from London to Edinburgh. “

The Wikipedia article goes on to explain that Gretna Green “is one of the world’s most popular wedding destinations, due to wedding traditions dating back over centuries which originated from cross-border elopements stemming from differences between Scottish and English marriage laws. The destination became popular in the 1770s when a toll road was constructed through the region.”

Now back to the Chautauqua marriages: Today, you can check for the possibility of such a marriage on Ancestry.com, which now offers the collection “New York State, Marriage Index, 1881-1967.” If you want a certificate, you will still have to contact the appropriate county clerk’s office.

The takeaway from all this is that if you are looking for a marriage record in the early 1900s that you think would have taken place in Ohio, but you can’t find it, check for the marriage in New York, Michigan, or even Kentucky.

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