Hello from Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny McClellan Morton. I’m still flying high after a week just spent at GRIP, the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. This was like mini-graduate school for genealogists, complete with a lush green campus in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania; immediate access to legendary instructors; rigorous coursework that’s exactly what I want to learn; a great genealogy bookstore; and plenty of after-hours socializing.
While I was there, GRIP announced an exciting lineup for 2014 (it’s not even on their website yet). Here are the topics and instructors:
Finding and Documenting African-American Families with J. Mark Lowe, CG, and Deborah Abbott, PhD.
Practical Genetic Genealogy with Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, CeCe Moore and Blaine Bettinger, PhD, JD.
Law School for Genealogists with Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL and Richard G. “Rick” Sayre, CG, CGL.
Becoming an Online Expert: Mastering Search Engines and Digital Archives with D. Joshua Taylor, MA, MLS.
Determining Kinship Reliably with the Genealogical Proof Standard with Thomas W. Jones, PhD.
Intermediate Genealogy: Tools for Digging Deeper with Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, FMGS, FUGA.
All those initials after these instructors’ names means tons of expertise is poured into every GRIP experience, and if you know any of these folks you know there’s not a “boring professor” among them!
Don’t forget to check out programs and conferences offered by your own state, regional and local genealogical societies. They usually offer a variety of topics for beginners to more advanced students–and they’ll be closer to home and less expensive. Our own Genealogy Gems premium memberships offers a fabulous genealogy education for a fabulous price: in addition to premium podcast episodes, you also get a new, full-length video tutorial every MONTH to watch whenever you like, along with unlimited access to all previous full-length video tutorials. Check out our list of Premium Videos here.
Ever wish there was a really easy directory for U.S. digital libraries and archives, organized by state with great commentary about the content? There is. But it’s not in a place most genealogists would look.
Open Education Database.org has a blog post called “250+ Killer Digital Libraries and Archives.” The post is a LONG annotated list of digital libraries and archives that don’t require library memberships, subscriptions, etc. to access. (In other words, open access.) It’s organized by U.S. state, so you can scroll down to the states of most interest to your research.
Digital archives and libraries give us remote, fingertip access to original and published materials we might never otherwise know about or be able to access. Look here for books, government documents, photographs, manuscript items, memorabilia, audio recordings and more. This is a great resource for genealogists. Click the link above to get all the info.
Every week we blog about new genealogy records online. Which ones might help you find your family history? New this week: more Italian civil registrations, Ohio and Pennsylvania marriage records, thousands of New York genealogical resources, Illinois state censuses and school records for England, Wales, Ireland and Australia.
SCHOOL RECORDS. Nearly 2.9 million School Admission Register records from England and Wales, Ireland and NSW, Australia are now searchable on Findmypast. Record content varies, but according to Findmypast, “These fascinating new records can allow you a glimpse into your ancestors’ early life, pinpoint the area they grew up in, reveal if they had a perfect attendance or occasionally played truant and can even determine whether they worked in a school as an adult.”
ILLINOIS STATE CENSUSES. Ancestry has updated its collection of Illinois state censuses, which now include 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855 and 1865, along with 1865 agricultural schedules for several counties and nonpopulation schedules of the federal censuses for 1850-1880. (Learn more about U.S. state censuses here.)
ITALY CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. FamilySearch continues to upload Italy’s civil registration records. This week, they added browse-only records (not yet indexed) for Potenza, Rieti and Trapani.
NEW YORK GENEALOGY MATERIAL. Thousands of pages of materials from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society are now searchable on Findmypast. Among these are all back issues of the NYG&B Record, the second-oldest genealogical journal in the U.S. (in print since 1870). Findmypast’s Joshua Taylor calls it “the single most important scholarly resource that exists for people researching New York families.” Other collections include unique census fragments, vital records abstracts, baptismal registers and old diaries. Click here to see and search the full list.
OHIO MARRIAGES. More than a quarter million indexed records and thousands of images have been added to FamilySearch’s collection of Ohio marriage records for 1789-2013.
PENNSYLVANIA MARRIAGES. Over a million digitized images of Pennsylvania civil marriage records (1677-1950) are now free to browse at FamilySearch. The collection description says it’s an “index and images of various city and county marriage records, many from Philadelphia.”
Did you find anything worth sharing here? Please do! We love getting the word out about new genealogy records online.
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.
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.)
(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”
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Each Friday we share a list of selected new genealogy records online. Watch for records in which your ancestors might appear–and get inspired by the kinds of records that may be out there waiting for you to discover. This week: Australian cemetery records, British military officer deaths, various U.S. passenger lists and North Carolina marriage records.
AUSTRALIAN CEMETERY RECORDS. Two million indexed records have been added to the free Australia, Queensland Cemetery Records, 1802–1990 dataset at FamilySearch.org. According to the site, “The records include an index which combines several other indexes, cemetery transcriptions, burial and other records from cemeteries in Queensland….Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women. They may also give clues to finding more information. In Australia, the first cemetery is reported to have been in Sydney in 1788.”
BRITISH MILITARY OFFICER DEATHS. FindMyPast’s new dataset, Royal Artillery Officer Deaths 1850-2011, lists the details of over 17,000 commissioned officers who were killed or died during the campaigns in Kosovo, Bosnia, Borneo and Iraq as well as the First and Second World Wars. It is estimated that since the regiment’s formation in May 1716, over 2.5 million men and women have served with the regiment. Each record includes a transcript of details found in the original records.
US PASSENGER LISTS. Browsable images were added to several existing US immigration records. Click here (and then scroll down) to view a table that has links directly to these datasets:
For San Diego, CA:Airplane Passenger and Crew Lists, 1929–1954 and an apparently segregated Chinese Passenger and Crew Lists, 1905–1923;
San Francisco, CA Passenger Lists, 1893–1953;
Key West, FL Passenger Lists, 1898-1945;
Minnesota Passenger Lists, 1910-1923;
New York City, NY Passenger and Crew Lists Soundex (meaning an index based on how a name sounds), 1887-1921; (this is actually a new image collection)
North Dakota Manifests of Immigrant Arrivals, 1910-1952 (this is also new).
NORTH CAROLINA (US) COUNTY MARRIAGES, 1741-2011. This new dataset on Ancestry “includes images of marriage bonds, licenses, certificates, and registers from 87 different counties.” According to an Ancestry blog post, some marriages have multiple records in this collection, like a bond and an indexed marriage record. This record set may be particularly useful for those tracing African-American marriages, as they “reference the joining of couples living as man and wife dating back to 1820, and possibly earlier…. Sometimes they also include the names of their former owners.” There’s a free, similar-looking dataset at FamilySearch, but the dates aren’t as extensive (it covers 1762-1979).
Tip: When searching within record sets like these, read the record collection description! Sometimes you are just seeing a partial collection that is being updated on an ongoing basis. Some years or locales may be missing from an otherwise complete record set.
When you have questions that aren’t answered in the record collection description online, Google them! Use keywords like the type of record (“marriage records”) and the missing locale (“Burdett County”) to see whether other sites can lead you to these records or confirm that they don’t exist. Learn more about advanced Google searching for genealogy in the fully-updated 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.