When seeking a marriage record an ancestor, some researchers find evidence of a marriage in a very unexpected location. It's not uncommon to discover that a marriage took place in another county, state, or even country than the couple resided in.
There are many reasons a couple might have decided to tie the knot far away from home - one could be favorable marriage laws across a state or national border, or even in a particular town or county within the same state. Some locations develop well-known reputations for favorable marriage laws at certain points in history and therefore become wedding hot spots that attract couples from far away locations.
Many genealogists refer to these locations as Gretna Greens - if you're interested in learning more, read our recent blog article about Gretna Greens.
This page contains a list of possible Gretna Green marriage locations related to New York State, based on submissions from the genealogical community - something that may be useful to researchers trying to find a marriage record.
We have been asking members of the NYG&B and other researchers to tell us about any unexpected marriage locations they have found related to New York State - this page highlights many of the responses we have received. If you would like to submit one to be included here, please fill out our Gretna Green form.
Below, you will find a table that lists all submitted locations where unexpected marriages were discovered - click the link for each location name to learn more about the stories that we received for that location.
A brief note on the definition of a Gretna Green
Although Gretna Green is not a formal term, the widely accepted definition is a jurisdiction that saw many marriages from out-of-town couples due to favorable local marriage laws. As you will see from the stories below, not every story includes detailed information on the marriage laws at the time, though in many cases there is an implication or hypothesis that the location was chosen due to favorable laws.
That said, there are many common reasons for a couple to "elope" to another jurisdiction to get married that do not have to do with marriage laws at all. You will see that personal or social reasons characterize several of the stories below. While this may not technically be Gretna Green marriages, we decided to include them anyway - this is because the locations themselves, due to their geographic location, may still be useful to researchers seeking hard-to-find marriage records.
|Approximate Year(s) of Marriage||Marriage Location||Origin Location(s) of Couple|
|1930||Albany, NY||New York City, NY|
|1932||Bennington, VT||Cohoes, NY|
|1907, 1923||Binghamton, NY||Wilkes-Barre, PA; Scranton, PA; Wayne County, PA|
|1835||Boston, MA||New York City, NY|
|1908||Bradford, PA||Buffalo, NY|
|1903||Buffalo, NY||Lorain, OH|
|1926||Elkton, MD||Brooklyn, NY|
|1911||Fort Erie, Ontario||Syracuse, NY|
|1934, 1947||Greenwich, CT||Brooklyn, NY; South Fallsburg and Monticello, NY|
|1712||Gretna Green, Scotland||Edinburgh, Scotland|
|1933-1938||Harrison and Mamaroneck, NY||Various|
|1944||Montreal, Quebec||Buffalo, NY|
|1930||Montrose, PA||Syracuse, NY|
|1904||New Haven, CT||New York City, NY|
|1939||New York City, NY||Greenwich, CT|
|1939||Northeast, PA||Buffalo, NY|
|1893||Patterson, NJ||Florida, NY|
|1700s - 1800s||Pownal, VT||Various|
|1910||Prescott, Ontario||Lacona, NY|
|1871||Rochester, NY||Colborne, Canada|
Please see below for any notable comments related to the locations above. These stories are shared directly from those who submitted the Gretna Greens form, with minimal editing from the NYG&B team.
A couple from Cohoes, NY in 1932: My Irish aunt married her Italian boyfriend in Vermont. One did not easily marry outside of their ethnic groups in that era. It was during the Great Depression and since each family needed the income the two young adults added to their respective families, each of them went home to their own birth families until she became pregnant with my eldest cousin. She never told me, but I imagine there were “fireworks” in both homes when they were found out. They were married over 60 years before he died. He was well-loved by all of the family, including grandma and grandpa.
My family was well known in Cohoes, NY. Someone would have mentioned the event to my grandparents or one of her 5 siblings and the jig would have been up. She did tell me that they drove to Bennington since he owned a car. She lived to be 99 years old.
Editor's note: The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 116 (1985) contains an article titled New York Marriages In Bennington Vermont, 1809-1828.
A couple from Wilks-Barre, PA in 1907: Our family was devoutly Catholic. His was not. He ended up dying young from tuberculosis and my great-aunt was accepted back into the family fold, but we heard wild stories about him growing up, including that he ran off on her! She never remarried.
A couple from New York City in 1835: My great-great-grandfather was a watchmaker in Manhattan. I always thought his being married at 17 or 18 was strange. Perhaps a Gretna Green marriage is the reason that he “traveled to be married in Boston at a young age” as mentioned in a jeweler’s magazine biography. I have found no record of the marriage. An NYC marriage cert of their son has my great-great-grandmother’s name. I have dates of birth for her ranging from 1813-1817. She may have been pregnant at the time as their “nephew” on the 1850 census was b. Massachusetts in 1835. On all later censuses, he is listed as a son.
A couple from Buffalo, NY in 1908: I do not know the reason, but there are suspicious circumstances. This marriage took place 5 months after the death of the groom's first wife. (They had been estranged and there was a child.) The groom claimed on the marriage license application that he had not been married before.
Since the first marriage seems to have been a secret from the second wife, perhaps the groom was concerned that if they were married in their home state that information would come to light. Bradford, Pennsylvania, is just over the state line from New York. Would like to know what he told his fiancee!
A couple from New York City (and Philadelphia, PA) in 1926: My maternal grandparents were first cousins. My grandfather lived in Brooklyn, Kings, New York, my grandmother lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Being first cousins, their marriage north of the Mason-Dixon line was prohibited, so they went to Elkton, MD, to marry. Elkton, MD was then similar to Las Vegas is today. So if your ancestors were too closely related to marry, but managed to anyway, look South!
Editor's Note: More information on Elkton as a Gretna Green can be found here: Elkton, Maryland: The Quickie Wedding Capital of the East Coast.
A couple from Brooklyn in 1934: Both of my parents came from devoutly Roman Catholic families, and neither of those families was keen on my parents getting married. A week before my mother's 21st birthday, my dad drove up to Greenwich to secure a marriage license, then on her actual birthday, he again drove to Greenwich ... this time with my mother at his side ... and a Justice of the Peace performed the ceremony. They kept their marriage a secret for two months, but they felt so guilty about deceiving their families that they went looking for a Catholic priest to perform a marriage ceremony in the Church. Not surprisingly, they were turned down by several priests ... in good part because it so happened that my dad's uncle was himself a Catholic priest serving in the Diocese of Brooklyn, and his fellow padres knew he'd be very angry with them for taking part in a secret marriage ceremony. Eventually, my parents found a priest who was sympathetic to their predicament, and he performed the nuptials in the vestry of his parish church -- St. Joseph's in Brooklyn.
And when my parents' families finally found out about their dual wedding ceremonies? Yep, all hell broke loose anyway. But despite a rocky beginning, the marriage lasted 44 years. So all's well that ends well.
A couple from South Fallsburg and Monticello, NY 1947: A Jewish wedding was held in December 1947 but I couldn't locate a Civil Marriage listing in NY. I then vaguely recalled an Aunt saying their mother made her go with her sister for something but couldn't recall what this referred to. I then thought it might have been a Gretna Green marriage as the bride's parents weren't thrilled about the marriage. I started searching online in nearby States I had heard were Gretna Greens for people and found the marriage!
Gretna Green, Scotland
Editor's Note: This one isn't exactly related to NY, but we thought it was fantastic that someone had a literal Gretna Green marriage in their family tree!
A couple from Edinburgh, Scotland in 1712: In my tree there is an actual Gretna Green marriage: Christian Colville 1692-1759 and the Rev. John Bradner, hired to be her tutor, 1690-1733. Both were born in Edinburgh and were married in 1712 at Gretna Green in Scotland. Their daughter Susannah, born 1713 on her parents' elopement voyage to America, died 1809 in Goshen NY and is my 5th great grandmother.
Harrison and Mamaroneck, NY
In 2013 our church celebrated its 100th Anniversary and as a part of that celebration, I spent a lot of time looking through our church record books. It turns out that in the 5 year period referenced above (1933-1938), our pastor officiated at 1,097 weddings ... all within a congregation of ~500 worshippers.
It turns out that in 1933 the Connecticut legislature enacted a 5-day waiting period for marriages, thus knocking Greenwich off the list of easy-to-get-to destinations from Manhattan. Harrison, however, is on the same train line and didn't have a waiting period (neither did Armonk) so the City Clerk - William Wilding - single-handedly set up a new quickie wedding destination.
The Harrison City Hall is walking distance from the train station and Wilding graciously kept it open until 11 pm for wanna-be newlyweds. Our pastor, Theodore Posselt, was on his list of two Justices of the Peace and 4 ministers to whom he referred young couples. At the time, Posselt also lived within walking distance of the Harrison City Hall so the night-time weddings probably took place in his apartment. Others occurred at our church (St. John's Lutheran) in Mamaroneck. I don't remember anymore if Posselt recorded the location but he did, in later years, record the time of day.
A couple from Syracuse, NY in 1930: The groom was divorced in 1929. The bride felt a family/community stigma about marrying a divorced man. I don't know why they chose this particular town. They were married by a Justice of the Peace 18 Aug 1930. The bride's parents announced the marriage as occurring 21 Aug 1930 in New York City.
New Haven, CT
A couple from New York City in 1930: The bride was Roman Catholic and the groom was Jewish. The family connection was severed from the time of the marriage and not fully restored until second cousins found each other through Ancestry, 90 years later. A great story!
New York City, NY
A couple from Greenwich, CT in 1939: For many years I could not find the marriage license of my husband's parents, who were teachers residing in Old Greenwich CT. When NYC released some new (old) records a year or 2 ago, up popped a record of their wedding in NYC, a week after applying for a license there. My husband was born 7 mos. later. His mother's parents were aware of the marriage, but likely his father's, who lived in the south, were not. They even used a local address for their papers, though they were still living, and continued to live after marrying, in CT.
A couple from Buffalo, NY in 1939: The story goes that this couple eloped to the town of Northeast, Pa, which is 200 miles from Buffalo because the bride worked in a bank and if it became known that she had gotten married, she would be fired. The reason being that this was 1939 - with jobs being hard to find during the Depression, a married woman who worked was taking a job for a man and his family. A married woman could be cared for by her husband. So this couple got married secretly 200 miles away.
A book review of Marriages in Pownall, Vermont in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, vol. 73 (1942) notes that "For some reason now forgotten, Pownal was for long something of a Gretna Green and Elkton. Consequently, its records show the marriages of far more out-of-town than local couples. Mr. Shepard has arranged alphabetically all marriages appearing in town books, No. 1 and 2, by place of residence. Marriages credited to Pownal take up fifteen pages, elsewhere in Vermont three pages. Massachusetts has twenty-eight pages, New York four and all other states and Canada one." A digitized copy of this book can be browsed on FamilySearch.org (click the link above), and there is a text-searchable web page with the records on the Pownal Historical Society website.
A couple from Colborne, Ontario, in 1871: They were Roman Catholics and got married in a Catholic Church in Rochester. I don't know why they came to Rochester. Someone years ago told me that Rochester was another "Niagara Falls" destination because it was easy to take the ferry across Lake Ontario. But I have never been able to verify that.
Help Us Add More
Can you provide any more Gretna Green locations? Do you have your own discovery related to one of the locations above? Let us know! Either email us or fill out the form below and we may add yours to this list.