In 1866, the Legislative Assembly of the Washington Territory passed the Act to Regulate Marriages, citing the need for marriage license recordkeeping. Before this year, there is no record of any marriage licenses in King County. The licenses were issued by the County Auditor from 1866 until 1969 and by the Recorder’s Office since 1969.
Upon acceptance of the license affidavit/application, the marriage license was issued to the couple applying to be married. By law, the County Auditor retained a ledger record of pertinent information from the license (license issue date and number) (b. Marriage License Register). After 1917, the license recordkeeping consisted of recording the license numbers and issue dates in volumes indexed semi-alphabetically (c. Indexes to Marriage Licenses). The license issue date is also repeated on marriage certificates since 1866. The license number is also repeated on marriage certificates since 1894.
Marriage licenses themselves were customarily retained by the ceremony officiator and therefore will not generally be held by county agencies. The King County Archives does retain a very small number of early marriage licenses in its collections (a. Marriage Licenses).
Originally, no set amount of time was required in which the couple had to marry after receiving the marriage license. As a result of this, there are isolated cases of couples waiting as long as 17 years to marry after license issuance. Beginning in 1963, couples were given 30 days from the license issuance to marry. Currently, couples are given 60 days to solemnize the marriage after receiving the license.
a. Marriage Licenses, 1874-1898
|This series is comprised of 30 licenses that were issued by the King County Auditor. It is not known why the licenses were in the county’s custody, since by law they should have been retained by the officiator. Nearly all of these licenses do correspond to recorded marriages in King County. Search online.
The King County Archives holds the original forms which are indexed electronically.
b. Marriage License Registers, 1866-1917
These volumes contain transcriptions of the affidavits/applications and pertinent information from the licenses (numbers and issue dates). The volumes from 1866-1889 have self-contained indexes and the volumes from 1889-1917 can be accessed using the Indexes to Marriage Licenses (below).
The Puget Sound Regional Archives holds these volumes.
c. Indexes to Marriage Licenses, 1889-1978
These index entries contain the names of the couple and the date of the license issuance. Entries from 1889 to 1917 additionally include the volume and page number of the Marriage License Register. Entries from 1917 to 1978 include the license number instead of the volume and page number. Entries after 1946 also include the date of the marriage and also serve as a certificate index.
The King County Archives holds the records from 1917-1921 and 1947-1978.
The Puget Sound Regional Archives holds the records from 1889-1916 and 1922-1946.