Writer James Joyce’s baptismal certificate; click to link to Wikipedia image.
As of today, the National Library of Ireland expects to launch a free, digitized collection of ALL its Catholic parish registers on its website (this link takes you to the English version; it’s also available in Irish). Nearly 400,000 digital images of microfilmed parish records comprise this collection.
According to a press release, “The parish register records are considered the single most important source of information on Irish family history prior to the 1901 Census. Dating from the 1740s to the 1880s, they cover 1,091 parishes throughout the island of Ireland, and consist primarily of baptismal and marriage records….Their digitisation means that, for the first time, anyone who likes will be able to access these registers without having to travel to Dublin.”
Catholic parish registers are a vital genealogical resource. In addition to the names of those baptized or married, they usually include those event dates, names of parents of baptized children, godparents and witnesses (who may also be relatives).
NOTE: This is a browsable-only collection. There are currently no plans to index or transcribe the records. However, the press release included a great suggestion for accessing indexes: look to local family history centers for that parish or neighborhood. “The buy diet medication online nationwide network of local family history centres holds indexes and transcripts of parish registers for their local areas,” it says.
Those unfamiliar with Ireland research may assume this means local FamilySearch Family History Centers, but a map shows only a few of these in Ireland. I would start first with the network of county genealogy centers, accessible online at Roots Ireland. According to that site, “The county genealogy centres are based in local communities, working with volunteers, local historical societies, local clergy, local authorities, county libraries and government agencies to build a database of genealogical records for their county. By using this website you are supporting that work and the communities from which your ancestors originated.” Several counties actually already have online records you can access through the Roots Ireland link above. Ancestry also has several databases of Irish Catholic parish registers.
For more tips on researching your Irish relatives, listen to the FREE Family History Made Easy podcast episode 21, in which we interviewed Irish expert Judith Wight. You’ll hear her tips on finding Church of Ireland records, civil registrations, estate records and how history helps us understand gaps in the records.
Thank you for sharing this post with those who will LOVE to know about these Irish genealogy resources!
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 28: Find Your Family History in Newspapers, Part 2
Newspapers offer such a unique perspective on history in general, and our ancestors specifically. In Part 1 of this 2-part series, we talked about finding historical newspapers. In this episode, Jane Knowles Lindsey at the California Genealogical Society shares inspiring stories about the kinds of family items she’s found in newspapers. She offers a dozen more fantastic tips on researching old newspapers.
Jane mentions these family history finds from old newspapers:
crimes involving relatives as victims, perpetrators, investigators, etc.
profiles of jurors
probate items and transcriptions from court cases, like divorces
Here are 12 more tips for researching newspapers and organizing your discoveries:
If you print out newspaper content found online, make sure you note where you found it. Source citation information may not be included in what you print.
Look for probate and “bigger” news items in newspapers that have wider coverage than the town: a neighboring larger city or a county-wide paper. Also look at the map to see whether the nearest big paper is out-of-county or even out of state.
Social calendar items (family visits, etc) were most popular up to the 1960s and 1970s. Newspapers today don’t look at local and personal news items.
Sometimes death notices for more prominent people are accompanied by a much larger article about them that runs within a week before or after the obituary.
There may have been both a morning and afternoon newspaper in some areas. Learn what papers were in town.
Transcribe short newspaper articles into your family history software. Transcription helps you catch details you may otherwise miss, if you’re not reading very carefully.
Nowadays with OCR and scanning, you can actually keep a digital copy of the article itself.
Look for ethnic newspapers in the advanced search at the U.S. Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America.
Any mention in a newspaper can point you to other records: court files, immigration and naturalization papers, military documents, cemetery records and more.
Google! See the link below for the updated Google News resource (for historical newspapers).
Newspapers can act as a substitute or supplement for records that have been lost in courthouse fires and floods or other records.
Like today, not everything we read in the newspaper is true!
Updates and Links
Some of the digital newspaper collections mentioned in the episode are available by library subscription, like The Early American Newspapers collection the and 19th century Newspaper Collection from The Gale Group. Check with your local library.
My You Tube channel now has several videos on newspaper research and on using Google’s powerful tools for your family history research. However, Google discontinued the Google News Timeline mentioned in this episode.
Check out the benefits of Genealogy Gems Premium Membership–including all those great video classes mentioned in the episode–here.
Finally, don’t forget this Genealogy Gems resource: How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers walks you through the process of finding and researching old newspapers. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, worksheets and checklists, tons of free online resources, websites worth paying for, location-based newspaper websites and a case study that shows you how it’s done.
Show Notes: Finding female ancestors poses unique challenges that can throw roadblocks in your way. And the reason for that is simple. The women in our family tree assume the surname of their husbands when they marry. In genealogy, we’re researching backward through time, and that means we encounter a woman’s married surname first. However, it’s critical that we eventually locate the records that mention the woman’s maiden name so that we can find her parents and continue to climb her family tree. Professional genealogist Shelley Bishop has come to the rescue in her new Family Tree Magazine article. It’s called Ladies in Waiting. In that article, she covers 12 resources for discovering maiden names.
Lisa: This is a great article. I think it’s going to help many people bust through the maiden name roadblock. And it really is a kind of roadblock, isn’t it?
Shelley: It really can be a real challenge. Whether you’ve done a little bit of genealogy or a lot of research, it can definitely be a stumbling block for you.
12 Places to Look for Maiden Names
Lisa: Well, I love that you’ve got 12 places for us to look for maiden names. Take us to the first location. What’s your first resource for finding maiden names?
Strategy #1: Marriage Records
Shelley: The first thing you’re going to probably want to do is see if you can find a marriage record. I think that’s probably the natural place to begin. Marriage records don’t exist for all times and all places. So, as you go back further in time, you may find that there aren’t really marriage records. But if there are, that is going to definitely be the first place you want to look.
Most marriage records could have been created at the local level. More recent ones can often be found at the state level. And they will usually say the woman’s maiden name. And there can be other clues if it doesn’t state it.
Strategy #2: Family Records
Lisa: That’s a great point. And closely related to that is family records, right? These are records collected over the years. You might even find them in your own drawers and around your house.
Shelley: Absolutely. Family sources can be amazing. You might find mention of a woman in a diary or letters. Letters might expose relationships and names that you weren’t aware of, or places that you weren’t aware of.
It’s also important to talk to some family members who might know a little more or who might have some of these family materials and keepsakes that you could look at. Ask them if they’d be willing to talk with you and maybe you can copy some of their things. That’s a great way to get started.
Strategy #3: Church Records
Lisa: So, you’ve got the family sources, and the civil marriage records. What about religious records? I think you had that as number three.
Shelley: I did, yes. When there isn’t a record of a civil record of a marriage, there could still be a religious record of a marriage. Check church records. See what church records existed for that time and place and determine where they might be held. That can change over time. There’s a lot of different places.
You might look at the baptism records of children, because those will often state the mother’s maiden name. Again, these are church records. So, there’s a variety of church records that can help you.
Lisa: And church records often go a lot farther back than the civil records, don’t they?
Shelley: Definitely, if you’re lucky, they can go quite far back.
In the Pioneer days, sometimes a traveling preacher would keep his or her own records, and some of those little journals have been discovered and published. So, you can even find those!
Strategy #4: Children’s Vital Records
Now you have your children’s vital records as number four. What are we looking for there?
Shelley: Yes, children’s vital records can be great. We’re looking for birth records of children to see if they exist. The marriage records of children sometimes will state the mother’s maiden name, which is a real find. And the death records of a child may also state the maiden name. Those things are really worth checking out.
Be sure to look for records of all of the woman’s children, not just the one that you’re descended from. You want to look at all of the children that she had, even if they are by a different husband, because you just never know what you might find there. And if she had a child who died young, which is a sad situation, that record may give the mother’s maiden name.
You mentioned looking at all the different children. I know for me and some of my families, I find that different children, whether they were born earlier or later in the woman’s life, sometimes that surname kind of looks a little different on some of those. The reason to look at all of them is the possible variations in the spelling of the surname. Sometimes the children weren’t exactly sure how this surname was pronounced or spelled. They just knew it was sort of like something so you will get variations. When you find those, just compare them between the different records and be generous in your search and try different variations when you’re conducting searches.
Lisa: Yeah, I know, even with my grandmother, she would say Mickolowski with an M, but it was actually Nikolowski with an N. So, checking everyone else’s records really helps find which is the most regularly used spelling.
Strategy #5: Death Records
Shelley: The fifth resource would be death records. And that would be both the death record of the woman herself, of course, but also, death records of the children, and death records of her husband or husbands. They could provide her maiden name.
And you might find someone else who is associated with her. I can’t overstate the importance of doing whole family research, because women relied on other people in their lives. They relied on men, especially. So that could be her brothers-in-law, her husband(s), her father while he was alive, and so forth. Those death records are something you’re going to want to explore for everybody that you think she might have been associated with, or that might have been related to her.
Lisa: That’s a great point. What you’re describing is cluster research.
When we get to the point of finding her death record, that’s a much later record. She’s not standing right there making sure the name gets written down correctly. So, if we can find earlier death records of associated people, they might be more accurate.
Shelley: Yes, that’s true. Unfortunately, a lot of times, especially if a woman lived to enjoy ripe old age, they didn’t even know her maiden name! You’ll find unknown written on the line where it should be.
Lisa: Exactly, and that’s why this article is great. You’re going to help us get past the unknown.
Strategy #6: Cemetery Sources
I see that number six is cemetery sources.
Shelley: Yes. Gravestones don’t give you a whole lot of information, just usually dates. But I find that you can even find cemetery records about who purchased the family plots, where she’s buried and who she is she buried with. You can get great clues from seeing who is buried with a woman. It might be her parents or others with her maiden name. And sometimes, that’s not apparent when you’re just looking at a single gravestone record online.
So, if you can, I always recommend trying to go to the cemetery in person. See how those graves are positioned and see who she’s buried with.
You might also find a published transcription that’s been done by a society where the graves have not been put in alphabetical order. They’ve just been put in the order in which they were encountered when they were read. That can also be another source of clues. So, you can sometimes find a young child who’s buried with his or her maternal grandparents. I had a big breakthrough that way, and that was the source of the maiden name. I knew this couple had a child. Unfortunately, she died young. She was buried with her mother’s parents.
Lisa: Gosh, it’s amazing how many different ways you can stumble into things like that.
Strategy #7: Census Records
For number seven you have census records.
Shelley: Census records can help in a lot of ways. Especially if the woman is widowed. Later in life, she might be living with an adult son or adult daughter in the home of a son-in-law. That is a great way to find somebody. If you find a woman living in old age in with a man whose name you don’t recognize, and then some another person that could be a daughter, that’s really worth investigating.
Likewise, if the woman herself died young, her children may have been taken in by her parents or her sister or someone like that. You may find if she died at age 36, you may find her children living with her parents in another census record.
Lisa: I’ve even seen by looking through the census records – and you were talking about the cluster research of looking at all the different family members – seeing a name of a child, either in her family or her sister’s family. And that name really sounds like a surname. That could be a mother’s maiden name being used as the child’s first name.
Shelley: Yes, that does happen. Maiden names were used as first names. That was a pretty popular practice in some areas. It can be a clue to the mother’s maiden name. It can also be a clue, believe it or not, to the grandmother’s maiden name. Sometimes they would take it back a generation farther. I had someone named Greenman as a first name. Well, that’s a surname, right? So, I had to get work back to find the Greenmen. And it ended up being, two generations back, a surname.
Strategy #8: Newspapers
Lisa: One of my favorite record sources is newspapers, and you have that as #8 in good places to find maiden names.
Shelley: Oh, my gosh, that is a fantastic place! Again, depending on the time period and the locality that you work in, you’ll want to look for marriages and announcements, which can vary anywhere from just a short little social note to long, elaborate marriage announcements. Those will almost always say the full name of the bride.
You can also look for Golden Anniversary announcements. If they’ve been married a long time and had a 50th anniversary, a lot of times, they’ll give a whole rundown of when and where they married and their parents. Sometimes they’ll even name their parents. And they’ll talk about people who attended the anniversary party, which could be her siblings with the maiden name.
And the other things are social notices. If they went out of town to visit relatives with the maiden name or something like that, you might find that.
And of course, there are obituaries. It may include not only of the woman and her husband, but also their children. Anyone mentioned that you think might have been related is worth looking into.
And I know you’ve done a lot of work on newspapers. Your book is a great guide to using newspapers.
Lisa: I just love them. And like you said, there’s so many different types of articles that can have that information. What’s number nine?
Strategy #9: Published Sources
Shelley: Number nine is published sources. Those would include things like old county and town histories where they might talk about the early settlers of a region, and the first members of the early churches. A lot of times you’ll find women’s names in there. You’ll also sometimes find a biographical sketch could be of her husband, her son or her grandson, and that could be in a far distant city and state than where she lived.
Published family histories are another place to look. A lot of times they will give the maiden names of women who married into the family.
You also have online family trees, which have to be taken with a little grain of salt because they’re not always as well documented as we’d like them to be. We have to be kind of careful about just accepting what they say. But that’s true for all published resources. We also have to verify that information. You will definitely want to do additional research to either confirm or refute the information.
Lisa: Very good point. Number 10 is court records.
Strategy #10: Court Records
Shelley: A woman’s status when she was married historically, she was a feme covert. She was literally covered by her husband’s care. And she could not make any court decisions or any financial arrangements, or anything like that, in her own name. Her husband was in charge of all of that for her.
When she was widowed, then she could take care of her own affairs. So, you might want to look at estate records of her possible father, and those will usually name both her husband and her in these estate records. Did they receive property? Were they named in a will? And so forth, like that. You will often see a woman named with her husband in estate records.
Guardianship records could have been created if the woman died while her children were still young. Guardianship was done to protect the property of the children against other people who might come later and try to claim that property, including a woman’s future husbands.
Divorce records may be found if the woman got divorced. You will often find her maiden name there because they will go back to the original marriage.
Strategy #11: Deeds
Lisa: Number 11 is Deeds. We can find maiden names in deeds?
Shelley: You can occasionally find maiden names and deeds. And sometimes if you can’t find the maiden name, at least you can find good clues there.
Again, if her she had a father or widowed mother who died and left property, sometimes there’s not a will. And sometimes there’s not a probate or an estate file. In that case, you want to check the deeds, because if they own property, it might have just passed down to the children without going through the courts. And if that’s the case, then the children had to decide how to divide up the property or they had to liquidate it. And so often, some of them would sell their shares to another one. Or they might also sell their shares to a third party. So, you want to look in the deeds, and these are called Quitclaim deeds, because the person is quitting, basically giving up their claim to their fair share of the property. So, if you find a deed that has that word, Quitclaim in it, that’s a good indication that that there are other people who are invested in that property, who also have interest in it. You might be able then to find those people and find out how they’re related. And then, who owned the property that they are now dealing with.
Lisa: Terrific strategies! There are so many different creative ways to deal with this problem of trying to find maiden names.
Strategy #12: Military Pension Records
And the last one is one I would imagine a lot of people haven’t thought of, but I agree with you. I think it’s a great resource. Number 12 is military pension records.
Shelley: So, if your mystery woman was married to someone who served in the Revolutionary War, war of 1812, or the Civil War, you want to check to see if either the soldier or his widow applied for a pension after the fact. Those pension records can be a goldmine! You can learn so much from them. They’re really interesting to read!
There are indexes to those, and I talk about where to find those in the article. And you can look for them. You can order the entire file from the National Archives, or sometimes those files now have been digitized. Look through them and see what you can find. In some cases, they will lay out exactly the woman’s maiden name, when she was married, the names of her children and their ages.
Lisa: Well, we have really learned a lot from you. Shelley, I think you’ve kind of smashed the idea that we just have to be stuck by not knowing a woman’s maiden name. There are so many other places to go and look. And with a little bit of diligent effort, I think we have a really good chance of success.
About Genealogist Shelley Bishop
We’ve been talking about Shelley’s 12 strategies for finding maiden names. She goes into all of this in detail in her article called Ladies in Waiting in the March / April 2023 issue of Family Tree Magazine. And you can find Shelly Bishop at Buckeye family trees.com. It’s been so fun to catch up with you and talk about this topic. Thank you, Shelly!
Shelley: Thank you, Lisa. I really appreciate you having me. And I just want to tell everybody, keep at it keep, keep searching. Best of luck with finding those maiden names!
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.
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.
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.