Marriage Records Survey: Durham County, North Carolina

I vis­ited the Durham County Reg­is­ter of Deeds, 200 East Main Street, Durham, NC 27701–3649 to sur­vey their mar­riage records. The office is quite acces­si­ble. It is in the mid­dle of down­town Durham, with ample, rea­son­ably priced park­ing in a park­ing struc­ture next door. The Reg­is­ter of Deeds is in the base­ment of the old cour­t­house, directly across the street from the mod­ern Durham County Gov­ern­ment Building.

Access to the records is remark­ably open. The records room is located behind the pub­lic recep­tion area. One of the clerks lets you in to exam­ine the records on your own. There is good light in the street-level base­ment where the mar­riage records are in open fil­ing cab­i­nets. A table, chairs, pen­cils, and scrap paper are avail­able to researchers.

The records range from 1897 to the present. Because of insti­tu­tional seg­re­ga­tion, African-American and white mar­riage records are sep­a­rate from 1897 until 1975. Older records are in plas­tic sleeves, one to a record. More recent records are in manila pouches, one per month of records.

Although Durham County was estab­lished in 1881, and most mar­riage records are no ear­lier than Decem­ber 1898, the ear­li­est mar­riage record in the office is a mar­riage cer­tifi­cate dated 27 Feb 1897 but recorded 30 May 1900. The cer­tifi­cate pro­vides the names and ages of the bride and groom (Mag­gie Williams, 18, and John Mitchel, 22). It also names the father of the bride (Chas. Williams). The par­ents of the groom are listed as “unknown,” and the mother of the bride as “dead.” This is an African-American record, which may explain some of the gaps in infor­ma­tion, as African-American records were not treated with equa­nim­ity at the time, and John Mitchel would have been born circa 1875, only ten years after the end of the Civil War.

The office con­tains only mar­riage cer­tifi­cates. It does not con­tain mar­riage licenses, mar­riage returns, mar­riage reg­is­ters (more on these later), mar­riage bonds, mar­riage inten­tions, or con­sents for the mar­riages of minors. (The office also con­tains other vital records, includ­ing orig­i­nal death and birth records. Death cer­tifi­cates are avail­able from 1991 to 2010. Pre­vi­ous records may be out for dig­i­ti­za­tion.) Aside from the gap from 1881–1897, I did not see any gaps in the mar­riage records. The Fam­ily His­tory Library has sev­eral reels of micro­filmed mar­riage reg­is­ters (FHL 812817, FHL 812818, FHL 812819, and FHL 812820, cov­er­ing the mar­riage reg­is­ter vol­umes 1–8 from 1881–1965); the North Car­olina State Archives also has these films. The Fam­ily His­tory Library also has micro­filmed records (FHL 812820) cov­er­ing mar­riage licenses from 1898–1905, which are prob­a­bly the records I was look­ing at, though they are called mar­riage cer­tifi­cates on the orig­i­nal documents.

The per­son­nel indi­cate that there are no known gaps in the records. They did not know where the reg­is­ters were, but said they might be at the North Car­olina State Archives. While the records from 1897–2010 are all avail­able, the index have been tem­porar­ily removed for con­ser­va­tion, with a planned return date of the mid­dle of June 2010. Some of the mar­riage records are stamped as “Filmed by North Car­olina Dept. of Archives and His­tory.” There is also a dig­i­ti­za­tion project that is intended to put the death, birth, and mar­riage records online within the Reg­is­ter of Deeds’ local network.

The records are open to the pub­lic. There appear to be no restric­tions as to who can view or copy any of the records. Once I found a records I wanted to copy, the clerks directed me to a self-service copier. The copies were a rea­son­able $0.10 each.

More recent doc­u­ments, such as the 1975 appli­ca­tion, license and cer­tifi­cate of mar­riage for Lafayette Barnes and Cather­ine Estes Rober­son have more detailed infor­ma­tion about the spouses. The records add the birth dates, and not sim­ply the ages of the par­ties mar­ry­ing, as well as their birth places, and the birth places of their par­ents. The forms also include the addresses of the spouses and the addresses of their par­ents, if they are liv­ing and the addresses are known.

Durham County, North Car­olina, Mar­riage Records, unnum­bered cer­tifi­cate, 27 Feb 1897, recorded 30 May 1900. John Mitchel to Mag­gie Williams; Reg­is­ter of Deeds, Durham.

Durham County, North Car­olina, Mar­riage Records, no. 698144, recorded 26 Dec 1975, Lafayette Barnes to Cather­ine Estes Rober­son; Reg­is­ter of Deeds, Durham.

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