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Genealogy Case Study: Where did my ancestor get married?

Genealogy Case Study: Where did my ancestor get married?

If you want to find the marriage records of your ancestors, you may need to look somewhere besides where they lived. This genealogy case study with professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe demonstrates how the concept of a Gretna Green can solve this marriage mystery.

This is part 2 of a 2 part series on marriage records. Watch part 1 Gretna Green and Marriage Records

Watch Live: Thursday, March 31, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
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My Guest: J. Mark Lowe. You can contact Mark through the Kentucky – Tennessee Research Associates

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Show Notes

If you want to find the marriage records of your ancestors, you may need to look somewhere besides where they lived. This genealogy case study with professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe demonstrates how the concept of a Gretna Green can solve this marriage mystery.

(This transcription was edited for clarity)

In our last video, J Mark Lowe was here and he explained that Gretna Green is a place in Scotland and it was a place well known for being very easy to get married, a lot fewer marriage restrictions than other locations. Well, that name has actually become synonymous with any place where it’s much easier to get married. And that means also here in the United States. So when you’re looking for a marriage record, and you’re not finding it, there’s a possibility that Gretna Green is playing a role. In this video, Mark Lowe is back and he is going to walk us through a case study that really illustrates the power of understanding Gretna Green, when you’re looking for marriage records.

(01:26) Mark: This case involves my grandparents, Papa Lowe and Mama Lowe. That’s what we call them. They were a very, very sweet couple. My dad knew a lot about his parents, and he was the oldest child. But do you know what he did not know? He thought they got married in Bowling Green where they lived. He just said they got married in Bowling Green. So, there I was with the county court clerk and there wasn’t a marriage for his parents!

I’ll have to tell you, my grandmother was, the term we use is a tea totaler. So that typically she was not an alcohol user. She was somewhat rigid and strict, in some ways. But I think I said to the clerk, “were my grandparents actually married?!” And he just burst out in big laughter. He knew them. So he just thought it was hilarious that a seven-year-old asked that. In the fact he said –  he called my grandmother Miss Eunice – he just laughed, and he said, “No son, I’m sure that they went somewhere else to get married.” It was pretty popular at the time. He didn’t tell me where they were married, though.

I did know that from the 1920 census, that they were already married. So in my great grandparents’ household there is my grandfather Earnest and his wife, my grandmother Eunice, living with his parents and they are married. And I knew that that had to be close to that time period that they married because I knew it was after my grandfather was back from World War I. So, this helps establish that they’re at least somewhere close, and that they’re a married couple living with his parents.

So they didn’t go to California, for example, or Texas. They didn’t go too far to get married. If they did they are already back. It was kind of like doing what we normally do, which I think is, as a beginner, we’re taught to look start in the county where they’re living. And I found a map of South Central Kentucky from that time period, 1924. I found it on David Rumsey.

map

You can see the blue star is generally where they lived kind of in the northeast corner of Warren County, Kentucky. Bowling green is the county seat, and so I looked there. I learned as a young researcher that if the marriage can’t be found where they lived, you will look at the surrounding place. You look at every place that touches that area. Well, there are a lot of counties! Nearby is Warren county, and I checked there. I checked every one of those counties and it took me a while to do it! (I couldn’t do it when I was seven. I had to wait till I could drive!) So, it took several years for me to be able to write a few letters.

You also see along that where that blue star is that there’s a railroad. It’s not a driving road. So the other thing that I thought about is the railroad. So I also went to counties beyond the adjacent counties because of the railroad. I went all the way even up to Louisville, which is just north, probably about two hours by train. North of that I even checked those counties. I didn’t find them.

Had I looked at this map more carefully, and had what I know today about the Gretna greens, I would have at least looked at the differences between the laws. I showed you those differences between Kentucky law and Tennessee law in the last video. I probably would have also looked at the statistics for the counties along the Tennessee Kentucky border where there were more marriages. Had I done that, if I had followed my own advice, I would probably have seen it.

If you follow that railroad on the map, it kind of goes down and then it goes straight south. And there is Simpson County. And it goes down to Franklin. And then there is the triangular jog. That’s a little break in the line up between Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s a historical point. Well, just south of that is a little town called Mitchellville. It’s in Sumner County. It’s just over the state line. There’s a railroad stop there. Well, guess what? That’s where they got married!

They hopped on a train, went to Mitchellville got off the train, went to the JP (Justice of the Peace) and were able to do everything and then probably hopped on the train, next train going north, and went back home.

I do want to verify that. And yes, it’s there. There’s a marriage bond for them. They married, and what’s interesting here is we always look at the bondsman to help us to connect with other family and associates and people that they know. What’s interesting about their record is that the bondsman is F.M. Groves, that’s also the justice of the peace who married them. And at the top it says that F.M. Groves paid for the bond. Do you know what he was known as? The marrying squire because if you crossed over to Mitchellville he was the JP. He had an office near the train station. I guess that probably was almost his full time job. People would come there to get married. Everybody knew about it. They would come and get married, he would take care of the license, and they would go on their way, and then he would record it. He would take all of those marriages to the county court clerk’s office over in Gallaton in Sumner County, and record those. I never thought about looking there. They actually are in the marriage register. But that’s not where they were married, and it wasn’t done the day they were married, because he did everything in his office, and then he took all the stuff over.

In the indexes, they copied my grandmother’s name which was Eunice. And on his record, you can clearly see it says Eunice Martin in that bond. Well, it’s a little scratchy. But when it’s indexed on the other record, they missed the U and the indexed her as Enis. And so that’s the other thing in a Gretna Green, when you’re checking an index, if it was copied by a JP and then taken to the clerk, it’s very possible  that there could be errors in the name transfer the copying. Or if the if the clerk was trying to read the JP’s handwriting and it was really bad, then the name could be totally obliterated in the register, which is usually what used to index the records. So that can also create a problem.

(10:10) So, they were married by this marrying squire. I found the article about him in the newspaper and he was involved with the railroad. So, he a smart man that realized that there were a lot of folks in the time period, post World War I, interested in getting married. He was in favor of that, and so that a lot of folks did it. And what’s interesting is that almost all of my grandfather’s siblings married all came to Mitchellville. They all came to the same place. And then all their cousins that married in that next decade from the 20s on, almost all of them did the same thing. They hopped the train and they came down to Sumner County, Mitchellville, and got married. It became almost like that was the heritage place and I wouldn’t have known that. But once I know it, then it’s like, I didn’t even have to go to Kentucky to look up any more records. They’re all right here in Sumner County.

So again, the Gretna Green creates a whole new situation of helping us. Once you begin to see it, you see the pattern.

One of the things that we have today that we didn’t have back when I was seven is we didn’t have access to the great records that have been indexed for us on FamilySearch, Ancestry, MyHeritage, and all these great resources. I could have looked for that marriage. But I might not have looked on Tennessee because I thought that they got married in Kentucky. So again, you do need to think about the possibility that they didn’t marry where they lived. Ask yourself, what are the places that people would typically go. If you can’t find them, clearly go back to that concept.

A lot of times our records are not where we think they will be. I was looking for one today. Pat Boone was a famous singer. All my life I’ve known that Pat Boone and his wife Shirley Foley, were a young couple that married in 1953. And I’ve always known that Pat Boone got married in this town in Springfield. It was kind of known as a Gretna Green because of the rural areas. People didn’t want to get married Nashville so they often came up here. I looked in the newspaper, and it actually said that Pat and Shirley, their newspaper accounts in Nashville, indicated that they had married in Springfield. It actually indicated the church that they were married in. It was in the study of a church right here. And it talked about who the witnesses were, because one of them was one of his college professors in Nashville. And so, I just wanted to find that record. I thought, well, since they married here, they also got their license here. But, again, that’s not the case. They actually got their marriage license in an adjacent County in Davidson County, and then they came up here and had it solemnized. So again, if I was looking for the record, even though they married here, (I looked for the record here), the record is in Nashville. And so sometimes, that’s not really the same thing as they went somewhere to get married in this case of Gretna Green, and the records are there, but again, you have to stop and think about what am I looking for? And what’s the truth of the situation? Listen to the story, and the story will help you find the details often.

(14:31) Lisa: That’s a great point. And I think you’re right, a lot of people assume that it always happens all in one place. but maybe not. And how amazing that the marrying squire performed 12,000 marriages. That’s a lot of people!

These strategies are so terrific because as you said even though we can search the index today, if it got transferred a couple of times there’s a chances of not finding it in the index because the name got kind of chopped up as it kept getting transcribed are good. You have to go back to these strategies.

(15:08) Mark: And also people had nicknames. You know me as Mark, but my first name is John. So if I actually was on the record as John Lowe, you might not have connected that with me. I know that’s often the case when I’ve been looking for brides, and I know them as Elizabeth, and I go look, and there’s not an Elizabeth in that marriage record. And I may have known she married somebody named William. So, I’m looking for an Elizabeth marrying a William. I know of a particular case where the young lady’s name was Caroline Elizabeth, and she went by Elizabeth, but her first name was Caroline, but she never used it. Guess what? She used it on her marriage record!

It could have been misheard. I know another person who went by Martha. Her name was not Martha. Her name was Mary Ann. She got a nickname of Martha, because she had an Aunt Martha. And so they called her Little Martha. It became a nickname. And so, she went by that. Her legal name was Mary Ann.

My grandfather ended up working for the railroad later. And I would say that when the railroad passes through an area, and I found this to be true in a lot of cases, with the transportation situation and a railroad often being an inexpensive way to travel, that often would have led to even more chances of the Gretna Green happening. I know of several couples along the railroad who decided to go somewhere else.

For example, to get out of Kentucky and go get married, they could hop on a train, and within about two hours, they could be up in Illinois in White County, Illinois. I know a couple in southern Kentucky who lived in different towns, they shared notes about how they were going to run off and get married and all this. But we don’t always have those notes afterwards, right? Grandma didn’t, grandma didn’t leave me all the personal things that she wrote to grandpa. In that case, this family ends up having these notes later, and they learned that the couple planned this whole thing. They hopped on the train and they met and had a bag and they went across the state line to White County, Illinois and got married. You would think, wow, I would never look that far away. All you’ve got to do is just follow that map of where the train goes.

Recently I talked to some folks in Eastern Kentucky and I helped some folks. In every case we used the railroad map and we were able to pinpoint the most logical place for them to go to get married. In almost in every case, they either went to Lexington or Louisville, because the big city had a JP. They might hear from the railroad guy who knew who to go see to get that done quickly. So they had a great experience. They were able to get back on the train and go back home and tell everybody, “Hey, we got married.”

So, one of the advantages of the Gretna Green is that the marriage can be quick, and you can get back home and announce it. I’m pretty sure that’s partly why my grandparents did what they did. They went and they came back and probably their friends knew and they probably had a reception or party either then or the next day.

Lisa: And it might be that people couldn’t necessarily afford a big wedding or it was just like a little getaway mini honeymoon or they had to get back to work on Monday. Who knows.

(19:40) Mark: Well, I think sometimes that’s the most logical reason. It’s probably very simple like that. There are some cases where we know that perhaps the father of the bride was not was not real thrilled about his potential son-in-law. He just didn’t think he was good enough for his daughter. And so he probably pushed back. I think that happened a lot.

I know in cases where they just didn’t want to wait. If all it took was crossing two county lines to get married they might just do that.  I can hear saying, “Daddy will be okay with it once we’re married, it’ll end once we’re married. He’ll be okay, you’ll all be fine.” I think the justification of young minds often will lead us to make those decisions.

Lisa: That sounds like my grandmother. I’m sure Daddy wasn’t thrilled. It was funny because they lived in Northern California, but they went to Carson City, Nevada to get married. It was just this little tiny thing in the newspaper, nothing fancy. Her fiance, my grandfather, worked for the railroad. So it was super easy. They picked a convenient spot along the railroad line.  I’m sure she felt like ‘well, we’ll come back and then we’ll ask forgiveness later.”

Use a Genealogy Research Plan

(21:21) Before I let you go, I really want to touch on one thing. I’ve been kind of trying to remind people lately about research plans. When it’s not a quick search, and what you’re looking for doesn’t just pop up on Ancestry or MyHeritage we’re going to have to dig a little bit and do this kind of background work.

As you were talking about getting the map out and then marking the spots I envision all those locations, go into that research plan. A plan helps you know where you’re going and how to approach it.

If you had to give a pitch on why it’s worth taking the time to take a deep breath and put a plan together, what would you say?

Mark: That’s easy because all of us have lost something important to us in our normal life. Now, as we get older, we lose a lot more. But when the research is important to you, a plan becomes essential. Not only does it help you think through it, and then you follow the steps as you as you see them developing.

It also helps you when you when you follow those steps and you don’t find the answer. A good plan helps you. It’s like a GPS that says “recalculating, recalculating!” If you have a written plan, if you’ve got a plan in place, when you get to that point it’s easy to just take a step back and look again. I call that my mull and ponder stage. I love to just sit and relax and rock and think through what’s my next option. A plan will help you decide what you’re going to do next.

In my years of experience, I’ll say, if it’s not there, then I’m going to look here, or I’m going to do this. I’m going to look for some alternates. That’s the real strength of a plan. I cannot imagine finding some of the great things that I’ve found without a plan. They don’t fall and hit you on the head.

You do not find new information by following the same old path. A plan helps you get to some new information.

Lisa: That’s a great point and a great note to end on. My friend, thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

About J. Mark Lowe

Contact professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe through the Kentucky – Tennessee Research Associates

Resources

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Premium Podcast Episode 194

Premium Podcast Episode 194

How to Find Hard to Find Records

with Lisa Louise Cooke

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 194

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Are you having trouble finding a particular genealogical record you need? It happens to all of us, so in this episode we will take one Premium Member’s question about a divorce and follow the process of how to find those elusive records.
 

Resources

Gretna Green and Marriage Records

Gretna Green and Marriage Records

Gretna Green is a term you need to know if you are searching for marriage records. In this video professional genealogist J. Mark Lowe joins me to discuss Gretna Green: what it means, why it matters, and how Gretna Greens may have affected your ability to find your ancestors’ marriage records.

This is part 1 of a 2 part series with Mark Lowe on marriage records. Next week, Mark will walk us through a case study for finding marriage records relating to a Gretna Green in the United States.

Show Notes

(This transcription was edited for clarity)

About Professional Genealogist J. Mark Lowe

You can contact Mark through the Kentucky – Tennessee Research Associates

Mark: I’m getting old enough now that I could forget some of that. I really started realistically started when I was about seven years old. Not doing the same kind of work, not professionally, that sort of thing. But I got interested.
Lisa:
We have so much in common. And I think one of the biggest things, of course, is genealogy. And I think most folks watching probably have seen you at some point, tell everybody how long you’ve been doing genealogy. When did all this start for you?

I lost my paternal grandmother. And so, with her loss, there were questions that I needed answers to. And I would ask my dad, and he knew lots of stuff. But he didn’t know everything I wanted to know, including, where everybody was married or that sort of thing. And I had an interest in that. He took me to an aunt, I had a couple of aunts who were in the DAR and there were interested a little bit, and he took me to visit one of those who took me to the county court clerk’s office up in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Mr. Oval Motley was the clerk at that point. He was willing to work with a seven-year-old. He took me into the bowels of the courthouse and let me unfold marriage records and he made me explain to him, and he would ask “now do you understand this?” He and I transcribed – remember those great big pencils that we used in first and second grade, those great big ones the size of your thumb? – he had me transcribe whatever I was looking at, and then I would tell him what it meant. Or if I didn’t know, he would explain it to me. Now, I still had a seven-year-old mind, and I was loving it! I was learning it. And he said to me, “Do you see where the story goes?” And he said, “the story of your family and every other family who passed through this area are in these records.” And he said, “so if you learn how to listen to that story, you can hear what happened to them then.” I was hooked!

Lisa: I can imagine. What a great experience! How wonderful that he spoke to a seven-year-old like that and didn’t underestimate your interest or your capability.

You’ve got me beat by a year because I think I was eight years old when I first became interested in family history. I always tell people I was the only kid in grade school using her allowance to buy death certificates! But my grandmother hadn’t passed. But like the gentleman that you met at the courthouse when I asked her during a visit over the summer vacation, “Who are these people in your in your scrapbooks? I don’t recognize them. Why do you have strangers? You’re my grandma!” and she said, “that’s my family!” She stopped everything and sat down with me and answered questions and wrote things down. It’s that love and attention of an adult who’s willing to talk to you about it, right? I mean, what a difference that makes our kid!

Mark: It really doesn’t. In fact, my grandmother, when she was living, was someone who would give you attention. I would make up homework because I was not yet in school when she would come and stay with us. She would help my older brothers and sisters with homework. And so, I would say “you know, Mama Lowe I have homework too!” And she would do what you say and we would go through something, whatever I made up to go through, and I think that was why there was such a loss in part of that. And so, I think doing the research often about her family, those folks that I’d heard her talk about, helped me feel like she was there again. Telling me those stories.

Lisa: Yes. You get to uncover another connection, and another connection, and another connection to those beloved relatives that we knew. I still feel that way. When I find people I say to my Grandma, “I got one!” It’s exciting to know that we have that ongoing connection.

So, you called her mama Lowe?

Mark: Mama Lowe, yes. She was my dad’s mom. And my other grandmother was just Granny.

What Does Gretna Green Mean?

(06:29) Lisa: Let’s talk about marriage records. I know that you teach a lot on this subject and kind of blend it in with this concept of Gretna Green. I’ve heard of Gretna Green.  There’s a place in Scotland. But you really help explain to people how this applies even to those of us in the US, and other countries. Let’s start off with talking about Gretna Green as a real place, and as an idea.

Mark: Exactly. There really is a place called Gretna Green. And as you mentioned, it is in Scotland. And the reason that it became famous is that England’s marriage laws were more rigid. Many couples found out that they could just cross the border over into Scotland, and they could get married much quicker, much easier without the same restrictions. It became so well known as people shared it with one another then they went to this little community called Gretna Green.

The marriage registers for those are available. So, if you actually have family who went to the Gretna Green in Scotland, the records are a database that’s available, both on FamilySearch and Ancestry. You can search those.

It became famous for an anvil, like a blacksmith anvil there. Often the story would go that they would go there to say they wanted to get married. The smithy was kind of a central place in the community. (Image Source: New Britain herald. [microfilm reel], July 10, 1924, Image 10.)

Gretna Green in the newspaper

(Image Source: New Britain herald. [microfilm reel], July 10, 1924, Image 10.)

It was just a place that was close to get to, was not far away, where folks could just cross the border, go to Gretna Green. They would get married at that location, and then return home. It became kind of synonymous with the idea of going somewhere else to get married.

As we know, in the States, there’s been lots of “famous” areas where people wanted to get married, not always just because of marriage laws. Like often that would be going to Niagara Falls. A lot of folks went to Niagara Falls either on their honeymoon, or in many days earlier to get married It became a destination. And so, the Gretna Greens are not those necessarily romantic locations, but where perhaps the laws were easier. In fact, let’s look at some of those reasons.

Reasons Why People Married at a “Gretna Green”

  1. Age Requirements

(09:54) I think the biggest reason that many of our ancestors married somewhere besides where they lived was because of age requirements. That still applies today. That was the case in the first one I went to find in my family. There was a courthouse where I thought they would have gotten married. That’s where they lived. But there was no marriage record from my grandparents there. There could have been age requirements.

  1. Waiting Period

In some states, there’s a waiting period. So even though we could go get a license, it might be two, three, sometimes five days, sometimes a week, before the couple could actually get married. And for many folks, that was just too long.

  1. Medical Test Requirements

In the 20th century in particular we began to add some medical test requirements for marriage. And in many states today, there still is a blood test or various requirements, and that delays the marriage. Even today, in this county, several years ago, Tennessee required a blood test, and there was a lab that was set up just across from the courthouse where you could get your blood test done in one day. And so, we became kind of a Gretna Green for even other counties, because you could come here and

 get your blood test and get married in the same day. That wasn’t true in other places. So that’s another reason.

  1. Costs

Sometimes it’s the cost of the license, or specific restrictions to clauses. Sometimes, besides age, there would be where you would have to have the proof of good conduct. Somebody had to actually, in some states, say that they knew you and that you would stand up for a good marriage and that you were of good conduct and that sort of thing. And in some cases, that would have prevented folks from going to a particular area.

  1. Alcohol and Party Restrictions

Certainly, near state lines and that sort of thing, people would want to have a party at their wedding. Perhaps they lived in a dry county. I grew up in a dry county. If you wanted to have alcohol or a party, then you would go somewhere else to get married.

  1. Train Transportation

For many folks going away is an important situation. They might hop on the train, or certainly, the whole idea of ‘oh, we want to get married somewhere special’, they would do that. So, I mentioned Niagara Falls. One of the other big areas where people went, if it was a destination wedding was Mammoth Cave. They wanted to go down in the cave. And particularly after the Civil War, 1870s and 1880s, there were many folks who would come down to Kentucky to do that. They would have on a fancy dress, but they would cover it with some kind of coveralls so they could crawl into the cave. Then they would get married and try to take some pictures. And so that would be a reason.

Lisa: It sounds like something kind of becomes a Gretna Green when word gets out that there’s an advantage to going there versus going here. I think about all the old movies in which they would go to Reno to get a divorce. That’s kind of the opposite Gretna Green, isn’t it?

Mark: It is, but it’s the same. It’s exactly the same thing. Same concept. People would get excited and would tell the information. So yes, yes, you can go there and a get a divorce quickly – same thing. And it’s amazing how the word got out about certain squires or JPs (Justice of the Peace). If you watched Andy Griffith growing up, people would come to him as the JP and get married.

Researchers like you and I, we’ve looked at these records, and we think “Wait, the record would have to be created in that place. And in some areas, it was he ease at which a JP could create a license where you didn’t have to go to the county seat. You could get married in that area with that JP. You could do everything right there. That certainly would have sped up the situation of having to go to a big city and wait in the long line and wait to be seen and go through the information. That’s certainly the reasons that they existed. and still exist today. They still do exist.

Lisa: Well, I imagine if a town or a city wanted to encourage people to come and kind of bring their filing fees with them, they would create a scenario where it’s really easy and they get that word out.

Mark: Sounds like a tourism opportunity! Yeah, come and get married here! We’ll make it work.

By the way, if you go look for that, you’re going to find that that exists, certainly. There are wedding chapels around the corner in certain cities just waiting for the opportunity.

Understanding Context: Marriage Statistics

(15:07) My grandparents would have gotten married right after World War I.  I could see that they were married. But depending on the time period and where you are, if you’re in the States, there are records of agencies, around the world in virtually every country. For example, a book of marriage statistics. There’s one compiled by the Bureau of the Census. We’re used to looking at their populations counts and that sort of thing. But they also put out a marriage and divorce report, probably starting in the 1860s and continuing through today, actually. They are available on Google Books.

I’ve used the marriage statistics report. They don’t always have the marriage statistics report in every annual report. They’re also available on Hathitrust. This is the 1922 Report: Marriage and Divorce, Bureau of Census.

In it you can see counties where the marriage rate is higher than the state marriage rate. So, for example, if you were looking at West Virginia, Brooke County has a marriage rate higher than every other county in West Virginia. The next thing to do is pull a map up of that time period. If you look at Brook County, West Virginia it has that little lip that fits up between Ohio, and Pennsylvania. So, Brooke county is in West Virginia, and lays right between Ohio to its west, and Pennsylvania to the east. Ohio’s laws in Pennsylvania laws were more stringent than West Virginia’s law. So, Brooke County, was a popular destination. Number one, it’s close. And so many couples from Pennsylvania and Ohio, and sometimes folks who married somebody from Ohio, would meet in West Virginia, and have the marriage.

This statistical data kind of helps you predict an idea. If you have somebody and you can’t find their marriage record, you could start looking at the law in that time period and see which counties had a higher rate nearby.

I think that the next step is to take that one step further. Besides the statistics, try to figure out what was the cause. Hathitrust has lot of years listed of the Bureau of the Census Special Reports Marriage and Divorce. You can actually look based on the time period that you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in the laws for other countries, they’re often included in some of this book of the US Census, because it’s showing us what’s the comparable laws in France or Germany or Spain. They’re in the same book. So, you don’t have to go look necessarily outside. Sometimes you can actually use the same tools for that. So let me give an example.

In the 1909 edition I pulled up the requirements for Kentucky and Tennessee. When I’m looking at my grandparents who were living in Kentucky, I wonder why would they possibly go somewhere else to get married? This is the age before a parental consent is required. In Kentucky, you had to be 21. In Tennessee at that point, you only had to be 16. That’s five years, a significant difference right there, don’t you think? You can imagine that there would have been a lot of people who thought, wait a minute, we’re eighteen, and we want to get married. We’ve got to have parental consent? If that were the case, if  your parents were all for that situation, then you could still do that. But if there was some question, then in Tennessee that wasn’t required at 16. In fact, before 1899 it mentions that that was put into place, that you had to be 16. Before that there wasn’t a specific written consent age. So that could have been the situation.

Those of us who research in Kentucky, for example, we understand the process that people who lived in the northern part of Kentucky crossed over to Indiana, because there was the lower age there. And the folks on the southern border, which is Tennessee, they crossed over into the northern Tennessee counties and got married, because it would have been easier.

With that in mind, you want to look at the laws that are in place. One of my favorite places to do that to quickly looking up the laws and statutes for the various states is one of the great summaries. Cornell law school has Marriage Laws of the Fifty States.

They’ve got it by state, and it helps you see the changes over time. It will tell you what the current marriage law is, but it will also help you see the changes in the past decades. I think that’s helpful for us to know. What was the law in place when your great aunt and uncle got married, and you’re trying to find where they were married? So that’s a great tool.

Lisa: Absolutely.

You specialize in your professional research, but many people who do it as a hobby don’t necessarily specialize. The advantage in specializing as a professional genealogist is that you really get to know all that context of an area. But that’s a strategy that all of us can use. We don’t have to be doing client work to take the time to get these kinds of resources. This is brilliant.

Mark: Yeah, because that is the question sometimes. I think that’s the one area that we can help sometimes is that people will say, “where do you where do you find that?” Well, it’s because you’ve already found it before. I think it’s when we share “hey, wait, this is a resource I would use” wherever I was. And I think I shared kind of three places there that would help you quickly, without getting into anything complicated.

And by the way, it would mention in the Census Bureau summary of laws, it would mention, if it required blood tests at a certain time period, what the tests were, it would indicate if there were special bonds. So, in regard to all those other reasons that folks might have gone to another location, those are in some of these summaries. So it’s not just an age thing. It’s got lots of other reasons. So again, it helps to know where to look, absolutely.

More Reasons to Go Looking for a Gretna Green Marriage

(23:45) In the case of my grandparents, I couldn’t ask her at that point, you know “where did y’all get married?” But sometimes there are clues that will cause you to look for a Gretna Green marriage.

I did look in the newspaper, but it just indicated their marriage. It did not indicate where they went to get married. I did find that in some other folks that I’ve looked for. In the newspaper account, it indicated that they went to a certain place or perhaps it was solemnized with the justice of the peace. Maybe the name was included. So, I would always do those newspaper searches.

Another reason to look for a Gretna Green marriage is rumors. They are often the best possibility. Somebody might say, “I think they ran off to so-and-so”. Occasionally that does pan out that people went pretty far to get married.

I always want to make sure that I’m looking in the right county. I love using the tool called the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries at the Newberry Library in Chicago. If I had grandparents who married in 1860 in a certain county, I want to know what the county boundary was at that time because maybe the current county didn’t exist yet. Maybe they were living in a different county at that time, and that’s where the marriage is. So, it’s always wise to make sure we’re looking at the same information and consistent across time.

atlas of historical county boundaries

The atlas of historical county boundaries

Learn more about the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries in these two articles:

Lisa: I know that a lot of beginners in genealogy don’t always realize that you don’t always go to the current county seat for genealogy records. That what you were just showing there with that Atlas of Historical County Boundaries interactive map was the ability to be able to pick a point in time and see where the boundaries were at that time, because that’s where you would then search today. And it’s one of those things that until somebody tells you, you don’t really know when you’re new in genealogy. That’s a great tool.

Case Study: Finding Records for a Gretna Green Marriage

This is part 1 of a 2-part series with Mark Lowe on marriage records. Next time, Mark will walk us through a case study for finding marriage records relating to a Gretna Green in the United States.

Resources

Downloadable ad-free Show Notes handout for Premium Members. (Learn more and join Premium Membership here.)

 

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