Gretna Greens in the United States

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Definition and Reasons for Run Away Marriages

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

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 were made in front of two witnesses. The blacksmiths of Gretna came to be called "anvil priests."[1]

Genealogical Implications

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

  • Arizona, Yuma, Yuma for southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico[3]
  • Connecticut, New London, Groton[3]
  • Connecticut, Thompson, Windham Co.[4]
  • Delaware for colonial New Jersey[5]
  • Georgia, Floyd, Rome for White County, Tennessee[3]
  • Idaho, Kootenai, Coeur d'Alene for Great Falls and other Montana towns, Spokane, eastern Washington, and northern Idaho[3]
  • Idaho, Payette, Payette for Oregon
  • Idaho, Washington, Weiser for Oregon
  • Idaho, Paris, Bear Lake for Utah and Wyoming
  • Illinois, Cook, Chicago[6]
  • Indiana, Clark and Floyd Counties for Louisville, Kentucky and surrounding areas
  • Indiana, Lake, Crown Point for Kentucky, Illinois, and Ohio[3]
  • Indiana, St. Joseph, South Bend for Indiana and western Michigan[3]
  • Indiana, Steuben, Angola for northwest Ohio, and southern Michigan[3]
  • Indiana, Vanderburgh, Evansville for northwest Kentucky and southeast Illinois[7]
  • Iowa, Lee County for ethnic Irish on the Mississippi River or from the East[3]
  • Kentucky, Mason, Maysville[3]
  • Kentucky, Pike County[3]
  • Maryland, Cecil, Elkton for Philadelphia, New York City, and New England[1]
  • Maryland, Howard County[3]
  • Massachusetts, Middlesex, Lowell[3]
  • Michigan, St. Clair, Port Huron for Lambton County, Ontario and all Ontario[8]
  • Michigan, Berrien, St. Joseph for Cook County, Illinois[9][10]
  • Mississippi, Tishomingo County (Iuka) for Southwestern Tennessee and Alabama
  • Nebraska,Norton Kansas
  • Nevada, Clark, Las Vegas for southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah[1][3]
  • Nevada, Elko, West Wendover for Utah and Idaho[3]
  • Nevada, Humboldt, Winnemucca for Oregon[3]
  • Nevada, Washoe, Reno for northern California[1]
  • New Mexico, Colfax, Raton for southern Front Range of Colorado
  • New York, Erie, Buffalo for Ontario Canada
  • New York, Essex, Crown Point for New York[3]
  • New York, Kings County for colonial New Jersey[5]
  • New York, New York (New York City Dutch and Presbyterian churches) for colonial New Jersey[5]
  • New York, Niagara, Niagara for Ontario Canada and New York State[3]
  • New York, St. Lawrence, Ogdensburgh for Ontario and Quebec[3]
  • North Carolina, Surry, Mount Airy[3]
  • Ohio, Brown, Aberdeen[3][11]
  • Ohio, Hamilton, Cincinnati[3]
  • Pennsylvania, Allegheny, Pittsburgh[3]
  • Pennsylvania, Berks, Reading[3]
  • Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Philadelphia for colonial New Jersey[5]
  • Pennsylvania, Washington, West Alexander[3]
  • Tennessee, Roane, Southwest Point for Tennessee[3]
  • Utah, Davis, Farmington for Utah[3]
  • Virginia, Fredericksburg from about 1938 until mid 1941
  • Virginia, Prince William, Manassas for D.C. mid-Atlantic States, and New England.[3]
  • Washington, Kitsap, Port Orchard for greater Seattle
  • Washington, Clark and Skamania Counties for the Portland and Hood River, Oregon area[3]
  • West Virginia, Mason, Point Pleasant for Ohio[3]
  • Wyoming, Uinta, Evanston for northern Utah[3]
  • Ontario, Niagara Falls for New York[3]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 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 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. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 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."
  6. "Chicago Becomes a Gretna Green." The Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1902, 56.
  7. Arlene H. Eakle, "Charles H. Browning and Your Genealogy" in Genealogy Blog at (accessed 8 January 2011).
  8. 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).
  9. "Chicago Becomes a Gretna Green." The Chicago Tribune, 27 April 1901, 56.
  10. "The Summer Brides." The Chicago Tribune, 24 May 1905, 6.
  11. Arlene H. Eakle, "The Gretna Green of the Ohio Valley–Aberdeen OH" in Genealogy Blog at (accessed 8 January 2011).