Have you searched and searched for the marriage without finding it?

I have searched and searched without success for a Tennessee marriage. As I described the problem to Afton, who answers my 800# and who is the Tennessee expert I turn to when a problem like this happens, she responded, “Look for the Gretna Green.”

Couples from Sparta, White County, TN went to Rome, Floyd, GA. Afton interviewed the mother of her client and was told, “Everyone from here went there to be married–everyone went.”

Why does a couple choose a Gretna Green for their marriage?

  1. Cheaper, and some times no fee at all is charged as long as the couple stayed the night at a local hotel.
  2. No paperwork. The officiator charged a nominal fee, and did not report the marriage. The only records are often account books.
  3. No bond was required to cover reasons the marriage should not be performed.
  4. No waiting period between the time of issuing a license and the performance of the marriage. Spur of the moment decisions could be made.
  5. The excitement of having the marriage completely under the control of the couple, without interference from family or friends.

Military posts on the frontier, like Crown Point NY, Southwest Point TN, could be gretnas. People from border states along international boundaries for Canada and Mexico often slipped over the boundary to marry. River Towns along the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Connecticut, the Hudson, the Missouri Rivers. Keokuk , Lee County, IA was a gretna green along the Mississippi; it was also a favored place of marriage for Irish ancestors coming both from the Eastern states and up the River.

Checklist of Specific American Gretna Greens:

__Coeur d’Alene ID, especially couples from Great Falls and other towns in Montana
__Evanston WY, especially couples from Northern Utah
__Yuma AZ, for couples in Southern California and New Mexico
__Crown Point IN, for couples from Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio
__Cincinnati OH, some licenses were issued, no returns were submitted to the place of residence. Many persons stopped in Cincinnati to work before moving on to a different place.
__Niagara Falls NY and Ontario–depending upon the activites of the local governments on each side of the river.
__Ogdensburgh NY
__Washington County PA
__Maysville KY
__Aberdeen OH
__West Alexander WV
__Farmington UT
__Douglas County (Reno) NV
__Pittsburgh PA
__Reading, Berks, PA
__Pike County KY
__Mt Airy NC
__Lowell MA
__Groton CT

If you have discovered a place where couples come from far and near to be married, will you drop me a line and let me know? I am collecting these places for a major report on where to look for missing marriages.  Your favorite genealogy expert, Arlene Eakle

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14 Responses to Have you searched and searched for the marriage without finding it?

  1. Hi, Arlene,

    Coeur d’Alene is also a Gretna Green for Spokane and much of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. They have a cute little wedding chapel there called “The Hitching Post.”

    South Bend, St. Joseph Co., Indiana is a Gretna Green for not just surrounding Indiana locales, but Southwest and Western Michigan. I couldn’t find my grandfather’s marriage record for the 1937 marriage to his first wife. My grandmother (second marriage) didn’t know, but suggested South Bend, as “that’s the place everyone ran off to get married at.” I sent off for the record and, “Bingo!”

    Thanks for an interesting blog post. I look forward to reading your completed report.

  2. dsammy says:

    Kootenai, Idaho (favorite of Spokane residents), I found out by accident.

    Douglas County, NV? shouldn’t it be Washoe County?

    Also Winnemucca, NV, favorite of those from Oregon, don’t forget West Wendover, NV

  3. lisar says:

    Las Vegas, NV is a place many Californians go to marry.

  4. Judy says:

    Great article thanks.
    Nevada has several MAJOR Gretnas
    Reno (Washoe not Douglas county) – near CA
    Las Vegas (Clark County) – near CA, AZ, NM, & UT [& now world wide ]
    Elko (Elko County) – near UT & ID
    Point Pleasant ( Mason Co.) WVA – near OH

  5. Pingback: 24-7 Family History Circle » More on “Gretna Greens”

  6. DearMYRTLE says:

    In the greater Seattle area in the mid-20th century it was popular to escape to Port Orchard. My father explained that then the marriage announcement would not appear in the Seattle papers.

  7. DearMYRTLE says:

    Just remembered that in the late 1960s, it was popular to elope to Westminster, Maryland. Not sure why, I think it was a short wait between the obtaining the marriage license and the ceremony, and the availability of a Justice of the Peace 24-hours a day.

  8. ruth hall says:

    Angola, Indiana was a popular place for northwest Ohioians to get married. My husband and I were married there in 1953. In Ohio at that time you had to 21 and wait three days to get married. In Angola you only had to 18 and you could get married right away.

  9. Coeur d’Alene, ID is not just a Gretna Green for Western Montana, but definintely for Spokane and many Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho counties. They have a cute little wedding chapel there called “The Hitching Post.”

    South Bend, IN is a Gretna Green for Western Michigan. My grandfather married his first wife there.

  10. arlene says:

    How very nice–several gretna greens added to the list! As you come across them, please submit places. I’ll verify the time period and if they still function as a runaway place today. Arlene

  11. lauraloub says:

    My grandparents (both sets) married without parental enthusiasm. Both sets went to “the county seat” to marry. I have no idea how that worked. I know one couple were married there by a minister and sent out announcements. The other had their photo taken at the county seat.

    Were these county seats actually gretnas? I wonder. I never heard the term before today.

  12. marilisa says:

    Howard County Maryland is an unusual place for marriages, however because marriage could happen quickly and it was accessible by streetcar thousands of couples with no connection to Howard County went there to get ‘legal’.


    Howard County Marriage Licenses
    A project of the Howard County Genealogy Society
    and the Howard County Historical Society

    This site contains bride and groom information taken from minister’s returns of marriage licenses, unused returned applications, and courthouse ledgers of marriages performed in Howard County, Maryland, between 1860 and 1939. There was no waiting period in Howard County and over 90 percent of the marriages were of out-of-county couples. Although these records are incomplete, this site contains records of over 38,000 marriages.

  13. cmcgrath says:

    I was surprised that you did not have Elkton, MD on your list. Southeastern PA residents all knew someone who ran off to Elkton to get married.

    Also, I lived near Reading, PA which IS on your list but I never heard of couples using that as a Gretna Green (or I would have!! ;-)

  14. Julia Bates-Price says:

    Another “Gretna Green” location was in Manassas, Virginia, Prince William County.

    In 1939 there were 1,691 Marriages Licenses issued in Prince William County, VA. In 1940 there were 1,749 before the law changed on August 1, 1940. My own parents were married in Manassas on July 31, 1940.

    Couples traveled firm Washington, DC, the Mid-Atlantic States, New England and beyond to become husband and wife.

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