Marriage records are not all retrievable. When you are frustrated about the lack of information regarding a marriage; when civil marriage records can not be located, sometimes the reason is easy, obvious and still unsolvable:
- The Big Lie to Family and Friends. The marriage did not occur when the anniversary is celebrated. This was much more common in the first three quarters of the twentieth century than the last. The stain and sting of illegitimacy was fierce, lies were told and secrets kept.
- Courthouse Disasters Happen. Records are not all re-recorded after fires and floods, especially by those who moved away and were unaware of the disaster. Local newspapers may corroborate these marriages, unless the disaster was pervasive, a flood or tornado, so then a neighboring town’s newspaper may be the solution. Local church records have the same issues, they might have escaped a fire, but a flood or tornado could have hit them equally as hard.
- Common Law Marriages Leave No Traces Except Progeny. There is no record unless there is a court case for economic relief, for instance child support, medical or social security benefits.
- Civil Unions Were not Registered. New York and Pennsylvania established laws late in the 1880s requiring civil registration. Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, states settled much later, had earlier record sets. Newspapers and church records sometimes solve this one.
- Unexpected Geography Results in Few Real Search Options. Elopements have patterns, Nevada, a college town or the closest place with less restrictive covenants. Cliches exist for a reason, explore the most likely options, as an example, kids ran off to Maryland to get married since there was no waiting period. It isn’t true anymore, but it was for years. Unlikely geographical events make this one hard. Two kids hiking the Appalachian Trail, a glacier in Alaska or Nepal, get married on the spur of the moment and then back to college and keep it a secret for a year. That one may be a lost cause….
Some marriage dates are carved into a couple’s shared gravestone and may be found in the cemetery, or photographs on Flickr or Find-A-Grave. Other dates are embroidered on samplers, needlepointed on cushions or pillows or artwork, quilted into a wedding quilt, engraved on silver cutlery, holloware or inside wedding rings, etched onto crystal glasses or painted as fraktur. Barring a keepsake, the census is a good place to start.
An example is this copper engraving plate to print the wedding announcement of Edna M. Clapham and Francis A. Sorber Jr. in Germantown, Pennsylvania on 12 July 1917. The actual wedding announcements, engraved mirror images of this plate, were mailed to friends and family. The plate itself was formed into an ashtray.
The 1920 and 1930 federal population census in Montgomery Co., Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia, supports this wonderful engraving. The 1920 because they are married and a child appears in the space between 1917 and 1920. The 1930 because their ages vs. their ages at marriage work out.
1920 Pa Montgomery Abington 67-27a-12 fam. 615, Francis A. Sorber Jr.
1930 Pa Montgomery Abington Twp. 46-1-2b-53 fam. 46, Francis A. Sorber.
Sometimes you are stuck with no marriage information and a union at hand. Use the various pieces of information gleaned from the census to establish a marriage history. The information taken from the 1850 through 1870 census can be notoriously tangled when multiple marriages occurred, since there is no connection or identification of relationship to the head of the household. The 1880 is the first census in which that relationship is stated and also the birthplace of the subject’s parents is tracked. The 1900 and 1910 have specific marriage questions as does the 1930 and for some lucky researchers, the 1940.
In 1900 enumerators specifically asked martial status, how long married and for woman, how many children she had and how many were alive as of the 1st day of January 1900.
The 1910 census asked marital status, married, single, widowed, divorced; the number of the current marriage; the number of years in the present marriage; number of children total; and number of children living as of 1 June 1910.
1920 questioned only the marital status, those questions about number of children born and how long married were unfortunately omitted.
The 1930 census questioned marital status, age and age at first marriage, effective date 1 April 1930.
In 1900 Leonidas Alexander King and his wife Margaret Ann (Taylor) King were enumerated in the Court House Precinct outside Williambsburg City, Whitley Co., Kentucky, next to her daughter Mary (Taylor) Tuggle from a union with Mr. Carroll, along with four King children, Nancy E., Frank W., George and Carrie.
1900 Ky Whitley Court House Pre. 144-1a-17 fam. 5.
According to this enumeration, Leonadis and Margaret King were married nine years as of 1 January 1900 and Margaret had nine children, seven living.
The 1910 enumeration shows one marriage for each of them, 15 years married and Margaret with nine children and eight children living.
1910 Ky Whitley Williamsburg 259-18b-20 fam. 255, Lee King 70 m1 15 Ky.
Online Ancestry linked genealogy files show marriage years of 1871 and 1881 both of which are not true according to either census or the marriage record found on page 723 of the 1893 book for Campbell Co., Tennessee.
The 1880 census for Whitley Co., Kentucky show M. E. Taylor with her family next to her mother Polly (Hollars) Taylor on two pages.
1880 Ky Whitley Dist. 113-57-47, M. E. Taylor.
The second page shows two of her children and then her mother and her family.
This last 1880 census example shows Leonidas clearly living with his parents.
1880 Ky Whitley 113-47-9 fam. A.B. King
The family story explained in a letter from a granddaughter, was that Leonidas King’s mother was not enamoured of Margaret Taylor and so Lee waited to marry Margaret until after Almedia Berry King died. Campbell Co., Tennessee is directly south of Whitley Co., Kentucky and was a place with less restrictive requirements in 1893 and probably less local commentary on their marriage after twenty years of “going together” and the production of seven children. Without the corroborating evidence from Campbell Co., Tennessee in the 2000s, I had for nearly twenty years, ascribed “ca. 1893” as the marriage date. It was midway between the 1891 and 1895 dates from the 1900 and 1910 census. Margaret’s children were Henry and Mary probably with Mr. Carroll and Edward, Sara, Sidney Alex, Nancy Ellen, George Albert, Frank Wolford and Carrie May with Leonidas King. Sara was the only known child of Margaret Taylor King’s who died prior to the 1900 census.
To cap it off, the nine years tallied in 1900 and the fifteen years tallied in 1910 were closer by far to the November 1893 date than any wild guesses made by relatives and reseachers, posted on the numerous linked genealogies on Ancestry.com.