Re: Divorced in the U.S., but not married in the U.S. #general

Roxanne Richardson

I can't answer the question as to whether or how your g-grandmother's divorce
came about, but I can tell you my experience with researching divorces in my
family tree. (All four sets of my father's great grandparents got divorced,
some more than once. Every generation since then has had divorces, and there
are divorces on my tree going back to the first divorce in Plymouth Colony in
the 1640s.) These were all marriages and divorces amongst people who were not
Jewish, so this doesn't address what can or has to happen within the Jewish
religion, only what happens in civil records and between people who don't want
to live together anymore.

Some states have an index of divorces; those indexes often cover only certain
time periods. California is one state where you can sometimes find a divorce in
the index, if you hit the right time span. Nevada is another. I think Florida
may have one, too. Most states do not have a divorce index; it doesn't seem to
be treated the same as other vital records, like births, marriages, and deaths.
To find the record, you have to know not only the state where the divorce
occurred, but the county, as well. Once you know that, you can call or write
the county clerk and ask about a divorce. It helps to know the approximate date.

My ancestors and relatives who divorced after about 1920 or 1930 seem to have
gone to lawyers and gotten actual divorces, but before that, legal divorces
were kind of hit or miss. Some of that may have had to do with divorce laws.
If your marriage is over and you want to marry someone else, but the state makes
it difficult (or even impossible) to get a divorce, then what do you do? You
split up and get on with your lives. You might even divide up the kids. (I
haven't seen this happen in a legal divorce; the injured party is awarded
custody of the children, or at least that's how it worked in all the legal
divorces I have records for.) In most states that allowed divorce, one party
had to be at fault, and that "fault" had to be abandonment and/or abuse or
life-time confinement to a state mental hospital or prison. The abandoned party
had to swear that they had not heard >from or received support >from the spouse
in over a year, and to not know their whereabouts. All of this cost money, which
might have been scarce. Much cheaper to just say, "See ya!"

I have quite a few ancestors who went their separate ways (some with a divorce,
some without), and all but one re-married "legally" (in the sense of getting a
marriage license and having a marriage performed; if they hadn't obtained a
divorce, the marriage wasn't technically legal). That odd-one out ended up in a
common-law marriage after she and her first husband split up without divorcing
(husband went on to marry again, claiming the second marriage was actually his
first). Some that re-married misrepresented the number of times they had
previously been married and/or their actual marital status on their marriage
license. They would say widowed instead of divorced, or that they had never been
married before, or some combination of that. My g2grandmother split up with her
first husband; there is no divorce on record in the county where they lived. She
married my g2grandfather in 1878 (his first wife divorced him in 1873), and when
they divorced in 1898, g2grandmother declared on the marriage license for her
third marriage two months later that she was a widow who had been married once

My understanding is that a divorce had be filed in the county in which at least
one of the parties was a resident. There was a time when some states had fairly
lenient divorce laws and were considered divorce mills. Little time had to be
spent living in the state to be declared a resident before they could file for
divorce, and the divorces were granted fairly easily. The Dakotas were fairly
lenient prior to 1900, and Indiana was, too.

While there was stigma to being divorced in previous generations, it was fairly
easy to start over in a new place. No one had to have permission to leave their
community and start over elsewhere. It was completely plausible to move to a
new community and represent yourself as widowed.

As for not being buried next to either husband, that might be a function of how
that particular cemetery does things. In some cemeteries, you buy plot in a
certain society's section, but you aren't buying a specific plot. A family might
purchase multiple plots in that section, but the cemetery buries them in a
first-dead, first-served order. In other cemeteries, you buy a specific plot or
group of contiguous plots and those spaces are reserved for you and your family.

If I were you, I would try the following, if you haven't already:
Confirm where your g-grandmother was living in the span of years when the
marriage broke up.
Call that county and ask if there is a divorce on file. If you aren't sure about
where she was living, check the surrounding counties.
Locate the marriage certificate for her second marriage and see how her marriage
status is recorded.
Locate the death certificates for her and her two husbands to see what the
marriage status is on each of those, and who the informant is. (Note that a
marital status of "Widowed" may or may not be accurate, but if it says "Divorced"
it is more likely to be)
The death certificate states where the person is buried; if one (or both) of the
husbands is buried in the same cemetery as g-grandmother, call the cemetery and
ask if they are buried in the same section, or anywhere in the cemetery. I
realize the section is a Ladies Society section, but you never know.

Roxanne Richardson
Minneapolis, MN

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