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Web-based marriage certificate program puts history in hands of public

Julie Kalkbrenner, Kandiyohi County Recorder, holds one of the large books that contain marriage certificates dating back to 1860. Accessing those documents is now available through a new online service in Minnesota. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

The first marriage recorded in Kandiyohi County took place on March 29, 1860, when George Blackwell and Amanda VanLoon wed.

The original marriage certificate, hand-written in elegant script, is kept in a large bound book in the county recorder's office. In the past, family historians armed with only a name and seeking the wedding date, could have waited anywhere from half an hour to several days while county staff searched stacks of books looking for the right certificate. Now, information about that 1860 marriage and every marriage that's taken place ever since, is available within seconds through a new Web-based program.

Called the Minnesota Official Marriage System, or MOMS, the program provides free information about a marriage that took anywhere in the state.

For a nominal fee, a copy of the marriage certificate can be purchased.

The Web-based program was developed by the Minnesota Association of County Officers in an attempt to streamline a "cumbersome" system that was "always a frustration to the customer," said Kandiyohi County Recorder Julie Kalkbrenner.

Prior to the Web-based program, a search for a marriage certificate had to be done on a county-by-county basis.

Counties keep records only of marriages that were certified in that county, Kalkbrenner said.

Genealogists would have to call or visit multiple counties looking for the marriage certificate of a long-dead ancestor.

By going to and entering a piece of the data, like the last name of the bride or groom, information is retrieved from every county in the state.

Because the program is new, not every county has completed entering all the data, Kalkbrenner said.

Some counties only have online information dating back a couple decades, while others, like Kandiyohi, Chippewa, Meeker, Swift, Yellow Medicine, Big Stone and Lac qui Parle counties, extend as far back as 1860.

The data are constantly changing as more counties enter more historical records and new marriages are added.

There was no state mandate for counties to implement the program and no state funding attached, yet all 87 counties are participating in the voluntary program, Kalkbrenner said.

"It's been a wonderful effort on every county's part," she said.

Counties are using money from their technology funds, which is a state-required fee that's generated by recording land deeds, to maintain the site.

The county officers association developed the idea because the old system wasn't working, Kalkbrenner said.

Designing a system that can be accessed 24 hours a day from a computer will make it easier for customers wanting information and county staff who spend time looking for it.

It's not just genealogists who will use the system.

Kalkbrenner said there's an increasing demand for people to produce marriage certificates when applying for a driver's license in another state. Some employers also require them for granting insurance benefits to employees. Other agencies, like police, county attorney and family services, are also using the system to gather data.

The Minnesota Official Marriage System allows people to locate and order a copy of their certificate online. It can even be delivered in the mail.

The new system is a response to "truly understanding what the customers are going through," said Kalkbrenner. "It's certainly more of a convenience for people."

The system is working so well that new records, like ordination certificates and marriage license applications, might be added. When that happens the name would likely be changed from the Minnesota Official Marriage System to the Minnesota Official Multiple System.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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