As those who have applied to hereditary societies may already know, several groups have a policy of requiring every birth, marriage, and death certificate for the most recent three generations of the lineage, with like information for their spouses. While this may not be difficult for everyone, some may not not know where all of these events occurred, especially for the generation of their grandparents. Legal access to these records varies from state to state, and not every state has readily available indices to such records. The following is an interesting example of utilizing records when your ancestors eloped.
In this case, my friend’s wife was applying to the Mayflower Society and trying to locate the marriage of her father’s parents (both of whom are deceased, as is her father). The announcement at left appeared in The New York Times on 12 June 1942 announcing a marriage that had occurred on 23 March 1942. No indication of the place of marriage is given, and no formal announcement of the couple’s engagement had appeared before this notice. The bride was a resident of New York City, and no record of their marriage was found there, nor back in the groom’s native Ohio. Where they got married appeared to be a mystery, and no one alive in the family knew either.
There are several twentieth century marriage indices online for various states, but not every state is available and searchable. While my recent post discussed indices for New York City and New York State made available on Ancestry.com through the efforts of “Reclaim the Records,” this covered marriages in New York City until 1995, but New York State only until 1936.
Sometimes college alumni books may list a person’s place of marriage, but not always. At this point, it seemed like the applicant trying to find her grandparent’s marriage was at a dead end, and the recommendation was to fill in the lineage application citing this marriage announcement with the notation that no actual record was found.
I recommended to the applicant she call the Summit County Clerk of Courts and request a copy of the divorce record...
However, one remaining thought entered my mind. This couple got divorced! Betty married again in 1978, and the marriage certificate indicated that her marriage to Robert Saalfield ended in divorce in Summit County, Ohio on 11 July 1974; it even provided the decree date. I recommended to the applicant she call the Summit County Clerk of Courts and request a copy of the divorce record, on the chance that this would list the Saalfields’ actual date and place of marriage.
Now, I should also point out that access to divorce records, especially for (say) grandchildren, is not always available depending on the laws of the state. I had mentioned in a past post that my great-great-grandparents divorced in 1913 in Pennsylvania (I know the date based on my great-great-grandmother’s second marriage), yet I was told by the court there that I actually needed to hire an attorney to unseal this divorce record, despite the fact that they are dead, their children are dead, and all of their grandchildren are dead!
However, in the case of Ohio there was no such legal barrier. The applicant got a quick response back and got the entire record of divorce. The most useful piece of information, of course, was the following:
Goshen, New York is about 60 miles north of Manhattan. There is no publicly available index for the state of New York at this time, and without knowing this was where the couple married, getting this record might have been difficult. But thanks to their divorce, here it is:
I should also point out that the actual date of marriage is 23 May, not 23 March as the New York Times marriage announcement had claimed. You can imagine for yourself why this change might have occurred.
Finding out the place of marriage when a couple elopes can be difficult, but if that is the case, it’s good they got divorced!
About Christopher C. Child
Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.View all posts by Christopher C. Child →