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Genealogy at the State Library of Pennsylvania

A guide to resources available to genealogy and family history researchers through the State Library of Pennsylvania.

Marriage and Divorce Records

Since September 30, 1885, marriage licenses have been required in Pennsylvania and are maintained by the Marriage License Clerk in the county courthouse of the county issuing the license.  Before September 30, 1885 the issuing of licenses was not obligatory, but was intended for those cases where the banns were not published or the marriage in church was dispensed with.  For these earlier marriages, church records and newspapers may provide information.

Since 1804, divorce records have been kept in the Prothonotary's Office in the county where the divorce was granted.  In addition, local newspapers frequently published notices of divorce actions.

From 1682 to 1773, divorce could be granted by the Legislature or the Governor subject to royal veto by Royal Council. In 1773, British Parliament forbade royal governors in America to grant divorces and the Legislature was the governing body to which pleas for divorce were submitted. From 1785 through 1804, either the Supreme Court or the Legislature could act on divorce matters. From 1804 through 1874, the Legislature, the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts and Courts of Common Pleas handled divorces. In 1874, Courts of Common Pleas alone began to govern divorce action. Since 1804, these records have been kept in the Prothonotary's Office in the county where the divorce was granted.

Divorces were rare in colonial Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War and early statehood. Some Pennsylvania divorces granted by the Legislative Assembly and the Supreme Court are in the Statutes At Large of Pennsylvania; Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Vol. 1, No. 4, December 1898; and Record Group 33 at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This Record Group contains Supreme Court Divorce Papers, Eastern District, 1786-1815, arranged alphabetically; Supreme Court General Motions, 1750-1837, and Divorce Docket, 1800-1805, arranged by date.