I wanted to share some details of the story of how I finally found my grandparents’ marriage certificate.
When I started my document gathering in September, I first focused on what I thought would be the “harder” documents to get, like my great-grandparents’ Italian birth certificates and their marriage certificate, my great-grandfather’s naturalization records, and the like. I left the “easy” documents to later, in part to spread out the cost.
Well, my grandparents’s marriage certificate was not easy. I’ve mentioned many of these details in other posts, but I thought I’d collect it all into a single story.
First, my grandmother is 96 years old, in a nursing home. My aunt was unable to find a copy of her marriage certificate in my grandmother’s records. Requesting the document was a challenge. In NY State, and probably many states, you cannot order a certified marriage certificate unless you’re a spouse, unless both spouses are deceased. That’s a challenge if one of the spouses is very elderly, in a nursing home. Fortunately, my aunt has power of attorney. But the state requires a copy of my grandmother’s photo ID. Well, my grandmother never drove and never had a driver’s license, and hasn’t had a passport since the 1960s (which has long since disappeared). (So despite what George Will says, there are lots of legal US citizens, many poor or elderly, who have no photo ID.) Without an ID, you can mail a utility bill, in the person’s name, and a letter from a government agency, in the person’s name. That’s a challenge if someone’s in a nursing home – they have no utility bills. The best my aunt could do was a bill from the nursing home addressed to my aunt with a RE: my grandmother and my grandmother’s retirement check addressed to my grandmother at my aunt’s address. Fortunately, this was enough for the state to release the marriage certificate.
Second, no one was certain about the date of their marriage. Sadly, my grandmother could not help. We were able to narrow it down based on when my aunt and father were born, and based on a comment I remembered that my parents could have been married in the 25 year of my grandparent’s marriage. What this means is that the request only included a 3-year search range, not an exact marriage date. i suppose that’s an invitation for a “no record found” since searching over years requires some diligence.
My aunt sends the request off to the City of Buffalo. And we get “no record found”.
That’s odd since we knew that both my grandmother and grandfather lived in Buffalo. And it’s almost inconceivable that they would have gotten married anywhere but one of the Italian Roman Catholic churches on the West Side of Buffalo.
So we try three tacks.
First, my aunt mails off a request to NY State. We originally requested through Buffalo because it’s $10 rather than $30, and a lot quicker.
Second, I send letters and emails off to just about every city and town clerk around Buffalo, on the off chance that they might have gotten married elsewhere.
Third, I send letters and emails off to just about every Roman Catholic Church in Buffalo and the neighboring communities. We knew the church that my father was baptized in and that my grandfather was baptized in. And my grandmother’s cousin knew the church that my grandmother was active in as a young adult.
None of the towns and none of the churches had any record of my grandparent’s marriage.
So now I broaden the search even further. I try Niagara Falls. Who knows, maybe they wanted to have a reception in the Falls and got marriage in a church in the Falls – at that time, there was a large Italian community there as well as Buffalo. Nothing from them.
I’m stumped. I ask my dad, my aunt, and cousins again. Everyone mentions the churches we already tried. One of the churches suggests that we try to contact the church that my grandmother was baptized in since that church’s records might note where and when my grandmother was married, even if it wasn’t in that church. Well, my grandmother was born and baptized in Sicily, so that does not seem like an easy option. I do email my grandfather’s baptismal church, but they have no record.
I email one of my cousins who was a bit of a family historian before I took over doing genealogy. He said, you know, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was your great-grandparent’s church – my GM’s church. Well, that church closed down years and years ago. I ask my dad. He says, sure, that was my mom’s church; didn’t I tell you that. He didn’t. But I’m happy to have a new lead.
So I email a few churches and ask if they know if any church might have a record for NBVM. One does. I email that church. They email me that they found the record – I receive that email two hours after my visit to the Detroit consulate. They mail me my grandparent’s marriage record.
Now I send a copy of that back to the City of Buffalo, along with a copy of their certified “no record found” they had sent my aunt. A couple weeks later, I get a certified copy of their marriage certificate. And a few days after that, my aunt gets their marriage record from New York.
I guess one irony is that if I had just mailed NY months ago, and waited, and waited, and waited, I would have gotten their marriage certificate anyway (since we did). But of course, when we’re going through this process, you get a heightened level of impatience. And especially when I knew I had my March consulate meeting, I was working hard to try to find their marriage certificate, my only missing piece.
Another irony is that Detroit ended up not requiring my grandparent’s marriage certificate – accepting the “no record found” (along with my grandfather’s death certificate) as sufficient.