Divorced in the U.S., but not married in the U.S. #general
My great-grandparents came to the U.S. >from Grodno (Poland, Belarus, Russia,
depending when and who you ask....) in about 1910. They were already married
and had three kids. The eldest was 9 years old at the time, so the marriage
must have taken place in 1900 or so.
from what I understand >from family lore, and based on the census records Ihave found, they divorced sometime after 1920 and before 1940 and my
My g-grandparents' names were Rebecca and Philip SHAYNES (with various
alternative spellings for the last name -- Schanes, Shanis, Schaynes,
Scheines, etc.; and variations on the first names as well -- Becky, Beckie,
Riwke for her and Pesach, Pejsach, Pasih for him). Her maiden name was ELFMAN
and her second married name was POPKIN (second husband's first name unknown).
However, I haven't been able to find any records of the divorce or the
remarriage, other than a 1940 census record that lists her under her
remarried last name, living with her daughter and son-in-law (my grandparents)
and their kids, and showing her as already being a widow of the second marriage.
What I'd like to know is how a divorce would have worked at that time, given
that the original marriage did not take place here. Would there have only been
a Jewish/religious divorce ("get") and Jewish/religious remarriage with no
civil divorce or marriage (which would explain why I can't find any civil
documentation)? Could there have been no actual divorce or remarriage at all
-- civil or religious? Was there a "typical" way that these things happened
(albeit that divorce itself was not so typical)?
I also know that my g-grandmother is not buried next to either husband. I
haven't seen the gravestone yet, but when I phoned the cemetery, they told
me that her record lists her as "Bessie Schanes aka Popkin" [the death date
is correct, so I know it's her, plus her son's name is correctly listed in
the record, and he also signed her death certificate]. The burial society
is the Erste Independent Tarnopoler Ladies' Society (and she has a lady
buried on each side of her neither of whose names I recognize). Does anyone
have any information about this society that might be useful?
As always, kind thanks for any insights you might have.
Also searching: FRANKENTHALER and SHUKET
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.
I do have one cousin who married overseas but divorced in New York City.
Rochl Zlata KHIRURGh >from Kamajai, Lithuania (Komai) married Colman LEVY in
London, England in 1902. Her name per this marriage certificate is Janie
KORNROSS but I have plenty of information to back up my assertion that the
bride was aka Rochl Zlata KHIRURG.
They had one child born in London in 1902; in January, 1904 the three of
them arrived in the US, settling in NYC where a second child (Katie) was
born to them later that year. The little family of four appears in the 1905
census, living in Brooklyn.
Then their lives went haywire.
They remarried each other in Manhattan in 1907, this time under the names
Kalman LEVY and Jennie LEVY. Per the marriage license application, this was
the second marriage for each - yet both were "single."
Kalman divorced Jennie on July 7, 1910 in Brooklyn, NY. Allan Jordan has
kindly requested the divorce file and/or court's minutes for me so if either
ever turns up, we'll then know the grounds. I would guess it's desertion
because by September of 1909, Jennie was living in Niagara Falls, NY where
she remained until about 1912.
In the 1910 census, Jennie was listed as the wife of Jacob Morris TAUB, with
whom she was living together with her older child. They lived together until
his death in 1940. (And I have not discovered a marriage certificate for
In the 1910 census, Kalman LEVY and Bela POMERANTZ were living together and
had been married two years (not quite the truth). They actually married in
December, 1910 in Manhattan, stating correctly that he was divorced and sort
of correctly that this was his second marriage.
So why did Kalman and Jennie remarry each other in 1907? I doubt that it had
anything to do with renewing their vows or attempting to reconcile or a
divorce. More likely it had something to do with their daughter Katie, who
disappears >from their families after 1905. (I have a theory on this but it's
unrelated to the present query.)
A tangled web, to be sure, but probably not as unusual as we might think.
Linda Rose Mar
I recently posted asking about my g-grandparents divorce and my g-grandmother's
subsequent remarriage. I wanted to give you an update.
Thanks to the help and advice of several people on this list, I was able to locate
my g-gm Rebecca and her second husband Louis, living with my HANELLIN grandparents
in the 1930 census. The transcriptions of their last names was very "creative" and
this was an instance where wildcard searching came to the rescue (thank you,
Johanna!) -- HANELLIN was spelled Hanelben, and POPKIN was spelled Tapken! Learning
from the 1930 census that Popkin's first name was Louis helped me also find them inthe 1925 NYS census, listed as Poppin, and with Rebecca's first name listed as
Beccie (another creative spelling).
This narrows my searching for divorce and (re)marriage records >from twenty years
(1920-1940) down to five (1920-1925)! Incidentally, Rebecca's birthdate was Nov.25,
1881 and she died on Nov. 1 1962. I have conflicting birthdates for her first
husband, Philip SCHANES -- Aug. 1876 (death certificate) and March 10, 1875
(Social Security), but I know he died on Aug 7, 1945. Louis POPKIN seems to have
been about four years older than Rebecca, but I have no confirmed dates. It turns
out that Rebecca and Philip are both buried in Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, NY,
but not near each other and with different burial societies.
Many thanks for your help!
Also searching: FRANKENTHALER and SHUKET