Thursday, September 6, 2012

Questions About Marriage Records, Divorce Records, Time Spent Researching, Collateral Lines and Laptops

First, a public service announcement:
If you missed Lisa A. Alzo's FREE webinar, Beyond the Arrival Date: Extracting More from Passenger Lists, you definitely missed something. It will be available to view for free for at least 10 days. I suggest you head on over there and take advantage of this learning opportunity.

Lisa highly recommends the book, They Came in Ships: Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor's Arrival Record (3rd Edition) which is now on my wish list. I haven't done a lot of immigrant research. On my mother's side, my mother and I were first generation immigrants so the rest of the family is still in Germany as are the ancestors. On my father's side, those persons that immigrated did so in the late 1600s and early 1700s so I haven't had too much luck, especially with their very common names. Lisa's webinar has given me some renewed hope.

Question from Nancy:
"When you are looking at a marriage record which date do you use, the date they got the license or the date they were actually married?"

I use the date that they were actually married. A couple could get a license and then something could happen where they never got married [see the next question for an example of that]. When looking at marriage documents you are going to see all kinds of different dates depending on what part of the country and the time frame. Here are some definitions for you.

Marriage Banns - This is when the couple announced their intention to marry. Usually this was done every Sunday for three weeks prior to the marriage in the groom's church and in the bride's church. This was an opportunity for anyone with an objection to the marriage to voice it.

Marriage Bond - The couple signed a statement saying that there was no legal reason why they couldn't get married. A bond would be posted as an assurance that the statement was true. If the statement turned out to be false, the bond would be forfeited. After the statement was signed and the bond was posted then the couple would be issued a license to marry.

Marriage License - The license was (and still is) issued by the county clerk and not by the church. This license gave permission for a clergyman or JP to marry the couple.

Marriage Certificate - When the couple actually married then they were issued a certificate. The certificate could come from the church or from the county clerk depending on the time frame of the marriage.

The earlier the marriage the more likely it would be the banns/church certificate route. The later the marriage then the more likely it would be the bond/license/certificate issued by the clerk route. You need to know the custom at the time and the place of the particular marriage.

Question from William:
"I have an uncle that was married 3 times. I have all of his marriage licenses. Do you think I should also get his divorce records from his first two marriages as well?"

I would. You never know what clue you might find. If the documents are available then why not get them. I have a half granduncle who was married 4 times (that I know of). He also had a license with another lady but they never went through with the marriage. I did get all of his divorce records. This man moved around quite a bit and these extra documents helped me put together a more accurate timeline.

Another question from William:
"How much time do you spend working on your research every day?"

Hmmmmmmm. A lot? It all depends on what counts. I not only do research on my own family but I do research for others. I also volunteer my time for other genealogy projects and I write this blog. Add it all up then my answer stands at "a lot." If you only want to know how much I spend researching my own family then the answer would be, "not as much." There is no way you are going to get me to admit exactly how much time I spend working on this stuff because if I did, my answer would have to be, "too much."

Question from Emmie:
"Do you just research your direct lines or do you research the families of the spouses?"

I research everybody that has any contact with my direct line. There are so many reasons for this. One is that in the deep south where I do most of my research the families intertwine like you wouldn't believe. On the surface someone might only be a spouse but once you start filling in the blanks you find out that she is also a third cousin. Researching the families surrounding your own may be the only way you can follow your own family back in time. Many times associated families and neighbors traveled together. If you can't follow your own folks back you might be able to trace a neighbor back to the correct location you need. It was common for children of neighbors to marry. You will be missing out on a lot if you limit yourself to your direct lines only.

Question from Dave:
"Do you take your laptop with you when you are going to courthouses and libraries and such?"

Yes I do. I used to do everything on paper and then I would transfer it to the computer (desktop) when I got home. Now that I have a laptop I can skip a step. One day I will get a smart phone or an iPad or something so that I can travel lighter. There are programs out there that will synch with your laptop. Many genealogists keep their data files in "the cloud" [for example, Dropbox] so that they can access their files from any device, anywhere. I am not quite to that point yet.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I can't find where to ask a question, so I will ask it here. There is a book in the Heritage Room at our local library that is a "Permanent Voter List". Are you familiar with this book? It lists men who were living during the late 1800's and early 1900's and who their ancestor is (usually a father, but I've noticed from ancestors I am familiar with, sometimes a Grandfather as well), that qualifies them as a 'Permanent Voter'. My great-great grandmother had several children before she married my great-grandfather. Her father died during the Civil War years when she was ony 6 years old. She disappears from the 1870 and 1880 censuses, and shows up married to my great-great-grandfather in 1900 with their children. They were married in 1889 and my great-grandfather, who died when I was 14 or 15, was born in 1891. I know the father of her oldest daughter, as he is listed on her marriage license and this family was in the county during the years 1870, and 1880, living not far from her mother, but her mother is listed only with a child born 5 years after the death of her husband. The older ones were married and on their own. I found a 15 year old sister living near her aunt working as a housekeeper, and she eventually married the brother of my great-great grandmother's oldest daughter's father, and the youngest son was 12 in 1870, living with his father's brother, but I can't find my great-great grandmother. Her oldest son went by her maiden name, but my great-great grandfather is listed on his marriage license and death certificate as father. Yet in the permanent voter log, his lists a Benjamin ****** as his qualifying ancestor. Benjamin is the father of his sister's father. The rumours were that his actual father was a man that carries the same surname as his sister's father and this Benjamin L. W. and the same given name as him, this half-brother of my great-grandfather. The problem is that this rumoured man is not the son of Benjamin L. W., but the son of his brother. So would this mean that possibly the father of his sister is his actual father and not the cousin with the same given name?

  2. T.J., I am intrigued by your question. I have never seen s permanent voter list. I tried looking your book up in WorldCat (a card catalog that includes all libraries) and I couldn't find this book. Is it a book that was was put together by the local government perhaps? The key to your problem is the definition and qualifications of a permanent voter. I checked Black's Law Dictionary and the four genealogical dictionaries that I have at the house and I could find no definition. I did an online search and every reference I found was either to a Canadian system or in regard to absentee ballots here in the US. The only reference I found that was remotely relevant was one that said once you register to vote (in certain states) you do not need to re-register if you change your address within the same state. This was a contemporary reference. I found nothing to give a voter voter rights by proxy.

    I will do some more research but I need to know the exact title of the book, the author or agency that wrote it, the publisher and the place and year of publication. If the system was such as you described, my gut would tell me that if a person's father was dead, another close relative could stand in as their proxy. I just haven't seen a voting registration system like this so I will have to do some more research. Send me the info to (or post it here) and I will see what I can dig up.