Gretna Greens in the United States

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Definition and Reasons for Run Away Marriages[edit | edit source]

A Gretna Green is a favored marriage place. When a couple runs away from their home area to get married in a place with fewer marriage restrictions, the place they go is often called a "Gretna Green."[1] They may want to marry at a younger age, want to wait a shorter period after obtaining a licence, want to marry without parental consent, want to avoid procedures such as blood tests, want less paper work, want to avoid paying a marriage bond, want to keep the marriage a secret, want a less expensive marriage, or want to marry a closer cousin than their home district will allow. Or there may be a special romantic place to elope. Some couples wanted to wed in the same place their friends got married. When enough couples resort to a particular place it may gain a reputation as a Gretna Green.

In common law, a "Gretna Green marriage" means a marriage transacted in a jurisdiction that was not the residence of the parties being married, to avoid restrictions or procedures imposed by the parties' home jurisdiction.[2]

Scottish Origins[edit | edit source]

The original Gretna Green is a town by that name, famous for runaway marriages, and just over the border in south Scotland. When English laws prohibited marriage under the age of 21, some younger couples crossed the Scottish border and the first town on the road was Gretna Green.[1] In popular tradition blacksmiths and anvils have become associated symbols of such marriages. Scottish law allowed anyone to perform a marriage if a declaration was made in front of two witnesses. The blacksmiths of Gretna came to be called "anvil priests."[1]

Genealogical Implications[edit | edit source]

For genealogists seeking a hard to find marriage, searching marriage records in the nearest Gretna Greens may be worthwhile. A Gretna Green can be a certain county in-state, or an out-of-state place. Farmington, Utah was a Gretna Green for Utah. Reno, Nevada was a Gretna Green for California. Niagara County, New York was a Gretna Green for the Province of Ontario, Canada. And Niagara Falls, Ontario was a Gretna Green for New York.

Known Locations for the United States[edit | edit source]


(The locations in the bullet points below are known Gretna Greens, though it is uncertain which populations they served.)

  • Groton, New London, Connecticut (org. 1705) [3]
  • Thompson, Windham, Connecticut[4]
  • Chicago, Cook, Illinois[5]
  • Maysville, Mason, Kentucky[3]
  • Pike County, Kentucky[3]
  • Howard County, Maryland[3]
  • Lowell, Middlesex, Massachusetts[3]
  • Mount Airy, Surry, North Carolina[3]
  • Aberdeen, Brown, Ohio[3][6]
  • Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio[3]
  • Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania[3]
  • Reading, Berks, Pennsylvania[3]
  • West Alexander, Washington, Pennsylvania[3]
  • Frederiksburg, Virginia (from abt 1938-1841)
If your ancestor is from… ...then check here.
California (southern) Yuma, Yuma, Arizona[3]
Arizona Yuma, Yuma, Arizona[3]
New Mexico Yuma, Yuma, Arizona[3]
New Jersey (colonial) Delaware[7]
Tennessee, White County Rome, Floyd, Georgia[3]
Montana, Cascade, Great Falls Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Idaho[3]
Montana (other towns) Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Idaho[3]
Washington, Spokane, Spokane Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Idaho[3]
Washington (eastern) Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Idaho[3]
Idaho (northern) Coeur d'Alene, Kootenai, Idaho[3]
Oregon Payette, Payette, Idaho
Oregon Weiser, Washington, Idaho
Utah Bear Lake, Paris, Idaho
Wyoming Bear Lake, Paris, Idaho
Kentucky (Louisville and surrounding areas) Clark County, Indiana
Kentucky (Louisville and surrounding areas) Floyd County, Indiana
Kentucky Crown Point, Lake, Indiana[3]
Illinois Crown Point, Lake, Indiana[3]
Ohio Crown Point, Lake, Indiana[3]
Indiana South Bend, St Joseph, Indiana[3]
Michigan (western) South Bend, St Joseph, Indiana[3]
Ohio (northwestern) Angola, Steuben, Indiana[3]
Michigan (southern) Angola, Steuben, Indiana[3]
Kentucky (northwestern) Evansville, Vanderburgh, Indiana[8]
Illinois (southeastern) Evansville, Vanderburgh, Indiana[9]
Mississippi River (ethnic Irish) Lee County, Iowa[3]
Eastern United States (ethnic Irish) Lee County, Iowa[3]
Maryland, Cecil, Elkton Philadelphia[1]
Maryland, Cecil, Elkton New York City[1]
Maryland, Cecil, Elkton New England[1]
Ontario, Lambton County Port Huron, St Clair, Michigan[10]
Ontario Port Huron, St Clair, Michigan[11]
Illinois, Cook County St Joseph, Berrien, Michigan[12][13]
Tennessee (southwestern) Tishomingo County (Iuka), Mississippi
Alabama Tishomingo County (Iuka), Mississippi
Nebraska Norton County, Kansas
California (southern) Las Vegas, Clark, Nevada[1][3]
Arizona Las Vegas, Clark, Nevada[1][3]
New Mexico Las Vegas, Clark, Nevada[1][3]
Utah Las Vegas, Clark, Nevada[1][3]
Utah West Wendover, Elko, Nevada[3]
Idaho West Wendover, Elko, Nevada[3]
Oregon Winnemucca, Humboldt, Nevada[3]
California (northern) Reno, Washoe, Nevada[1]
Colorado (southern front range) Raton, Colfax, New Mexico
Ontario Buffalo, Erie, New York
New York State Crown Point, Essex, New York[3]
New Jersey Kings County, New York[7]
New Jersey (colonial) New York (New York City Dutch and Presbyterian churches), New York[7]
New York State Niagara, Niagara, New York[3]
Ontario Niagara, Niagara, New York[3]
Quebec Ogdensburgh, St Lawrence, New York[3]
Ontario Ogdensburgh, St Lawrence, New York[3]
New Jersey (colonial) Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[7]
Tennessee South Point, Roane, Tennessee[3]
Utah Farmington, Davis, Utah[3]
New England Manassas, Prince William, Virginia[3]
Washington D.C. Manassas, Prince William, Virginia[3]
Mid-Atlantic States Manassas, Prince William, Virginia[3]
Washington, Greater Seattle Port Orchard, Kitsap, Washington
Oregon, Portland area Clark County, Washington[3]
Oregon, Hood River area Clark County, Washington[3]
Oregon, Portland area Skamania County, Washington[3]
Oregon, Hood River area Skamania County, Washington[3]
Ohio Point Pleasant, Mason, West Virginia[3]
Utah (northern) Evanston, Uinta, Wyoming[3]
New York State Niagara Falls, Ontario[3]
Texas, Fort Bend County Richmond/Rosenburg, Fort Bend, Texas[14]
Texas, Harris County Liberty, Liberty County, Texas[15]
Texas (Eastern Texas, vicinity of Longview) Texarkana, Arkansas[16]
Texas Orange County, Texas[17]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Wikipedia contributors, "Gretna Green" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at (accessed 8 January 2011).
  2. See Oxford English Dictionary.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 3.34 3.35 3.36 3.37 3.38 3.39 3.40 3.41 3.42 3.43 3.44 3.45 3.46 3.47 3.48 3.49 3.50 3.51 3.52 Arlene H. Eakle, "Have you searched and searched for a marriage without finding it?" in Genealogy Blog at (accessed 8 January 2011).
  4. History of Windham County, Connecticut, Bayles, Richard M.; New York: W.W. Preston, 1889
  5. "Chicago Becomes a Gretna Green." The Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1902, 56.
  6. Arlene H. Eakle, "The Gretna Green of the Ohio Valley–Aberdeen OH" in Genealogy Blog at (accessed 8 January 2011).
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Kenn Stryker-Rodda, "That Genealogical Quagmire: New Jersey," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 48 (1960): 65. (FHL Book 973 B2ng v. 48) WorldCat entry. "Many from New Jersey went out of the colony to be married or to have children baptized, primarily to the Dutch churches in New York and Kings County, to the First Presbyterian Church of New York, and to various churches in Philadelphia and Delaware."
  8. Arlene H. Eakle, "Charles H. Browning and Your Genealogy" in Genealogy Blog at (accessed 8 January 2011).
  9. Arlene H. Eakle, "Charles H. Browning and Your Genealogy" in Genealogy Blog at (accessed 8 January 2011).
  10. Fay Lucille Lucas Bertrand, "1839-1898 Marriages St. Clair County, Michigan (Mainly Port Huron, Michigan)" in Granny's Genealogy Gardens at (accessed 10 January 2011).
  11. Fay Lucille Lucas Bertrand, "1839-1898 Marriages St. Clair County, Michigan (Mainly Port Huron, Michigan)" in Granny's Genealogy Gardens at (accessed 10 January 2011).
  12. "Chicago Becomes a Gretna Green." The Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1901, 56.
  13. "The Summer Brides." The Chicago Tribune, 24 May 1905, 6.
  14. Texas and Gretna Greens
  15. Texas and Gretna Greens
  16. Texas and Gretna Greens
  17. Texas and Gretna Greens