Alternate Sources to Prove Your Ancestor’s Marriage
Last week we discussed the more traditional types of marriage records. When found, we can do the genealogy happy dance. (Think Snoopy doing his dance! Just try not to embarrass your kids.)
What about the times when a formal marriage record does not exist for your ancestor?
All is not lost! A number of alternate sources are available to find your ancestor’s spouse and/or marriage date. Sometimes, the date is not specifically stated and you will need to infer a date from a record.
Let’s Get Started.
1. Census Records – Analyze the census record where your ancestor appears. [I missed a lot of this information when I first started out!]
The 1850-1880 census records will indicate if a marriage occurred within the past year.
The census records for 1880-1940 state an individual’s relationship to the head of household. This column will indicate a wife.
Look for the number of years married category in the 1900 and 1910 census records to estimate a marriage date. You will also find the status of the marriage (Married, Widowed or Divorced) in Column 9.
2.Death Certificate – A death certificate will usually state a spouse’s name and include the maiden name for a female. The length of a marriage is not stated, but the status of the marriage is as in this 1923 example. Given the young age of the deceased and assuming marriage at the usual age, an estimate of her marriage year of ~1915 can be estimated. A search of records (traditional and non-traditional marriage records) around the time period would be the next step.
If a spouse is not listed, this does not mean there was no marriage. The person providing the information simply did not know the spouse’s name. Remember, a death certificate’s information as a genealogical source is only as strong as the person providing the information.
3.Wills and Estate Records – Finding a date of marriage here is not likely, but a wife’s name will usually be listed if she is still alive. Hopefully, your ancestor stated in his will something to the effect of “my beloved wife Sarah (nee Barbee)” .
Okay, most wills are not that specific, but we can always dream!
4.Obituaries – An ancestor’s obituary is a good place to look for marriage information. The information found in an obituary will vary quite a bit. Typically a spouse is listed and it may contain the length of a marriage. If so, simple math can help you estimate the date of the marriage.
5.Society pages/Newspapers – Our ancestors did not live in a vacuum until themselves. They lived and interacted with their neighbors and their communities. Society pages in early newspapers were popular for keeping up with community “happenings”.
This little snippet from a society column tells the researcher that Miss DeEtte Benham and Miss Clyde Worth were cousins and that Miss Worth was married in December 1902. [This example is from page 3 of the 18 December 1902 edition of The Elkin [NC] Times accessed through North Carolina Newspapers – Digital NC.]
6.Land Records/Deeds – Search the land records for your ancestor. As a stand alone record, you will not find a marriage date, but you may find a wife listed in the deeds. If so, you can determine a wife’s first name and place the couple in a time and place and begin to narrow down a time period for the marriage.
7.Military Records – Draft Registration, CCC Enlistments, Pension Applications including Revolutionary War Pension Applications all have potential for listing a wife along with other personal information that can help you estimate a marriage date.
But for this post I want to take a closer look at pension applications, specifically the Revolutionary War pension applications.
If a veteran of the Revolutionary War died and left a spouse, the spouse was often eligible for her husband’s pension benefits. In order to receive those, she had to prove she was married to the gentleman. These applications are where proof of a marriage can be found.
This is from the Revolutionary War pension application file of James Harward. Rachel Belvin Harward, second wife of James Harward, soldier is seeking his pension benefits after his death.
This record provides Rachel’s name prior to her second marriage and the date of the marriage.
Use these 7 type of resources to pursue your ancestor’s marriage information. As with much of our genealogy research, the answer is not always specific, but must be derived from more than one source.
Don’t hesitate to peruse a variety of records in search of clues to your ancestor’s marriage. Sometimes answers will be found in the most unexpected places.