I had a realization yesterday as I was working on a family search indexing project yesterday – I am a snoop. Its not the biggest realization, the type that inspires a person to sell everything they own and move to Reykjavik. But it’s a realization which some weighty properties. For the record, I do not peep into people’s windows or go through their garbage. I do not hack celebrity phone account and to steal e-mails. No judging, but I found this Pinterest photo of a divorcing couple dividing their Beanie Babies a few days ago. Amusing, yes. Does it give insight to what the couple felt was important? Absolutely. I can’t see what the wife selected, so I hope she got the commemorative Princess Beanie Baby which is listed for $2,500 online.
That being said, I still am a snoop, and I have come to appreciate the information found in divorce records. I don’t like watching people go through traumatic and horrible experiences. I’m not interested in modern day divorces, as most of my divorce record research takes place before 1950.
Divorce records are essential to genealogists. As a divorce includes a court process and vital record information, they have the ability to ascertain an ancestor and their everyday circumstances with unique detail. Divorce proceedings were a court process from some of the earliest of our colonial records, when Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was granted a divorce from Denis Clarke on January 5, 1643, on the grounds of adultery and abandonment. Betty Malesky has written a fantastic article about early American divorce records, which I recommend to anyone searching for or working with colonial and pre-civil war divorce records. The information provided in divorce records give researchers an opportunity to see both law and the lives of the people in the court case which would have not been possible before.
I’ve been working on the Family Search Virginia Divorce Records this winter, and I’m
amazed at the amount of information contained in the abstracts. I’m not keeping score of all the reasons behind each separation, but to my surprise, there was a lot of marital abandonment going on. I thought men would be the main perpetrators of abandonment, but there was a staggering portion of women walking out as well. I also saw one or two couples who had racked up 2-3 marriages and divorces each while under the age of 40. That’s a lot of emotional baggage. By the time I got around to transcribing records from the 1970’s the no fault divorce laws began to take effect, and suddenly all those lovely details were lost. No more stories of abandonment, adultery, cruelty, or polygamy. The last three batches have all been no fault divorces, and have been a bit of a disappointment.
The best selection of divorce records I have found online have been on Family Search, and I dearly hope to see more records made available for the states I need, like Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Because searching for divorce records can be expensive and time consuming, even the divorce indexes for these states would be helpful.
If you’re researching divorce records, share your thoughts and tips on our blog!
Don’t forget to join us for Fountaindale Public Library’s fifth annual Genealogy Day on Saturday, May 2, 2015 from 9:30 am to 4 pm! This year’s theme is “Movers, Quakers, and Rockbreakers”. This is a free day-long program and registration is open now! In addition to the speakers, participants will enjoy Door Prizes, Society Booths, on the spot digital photo restorations, and three outstanding lecture topics. Bring a friend and join us for a great day of genealogy programming! For more information, call (630) 685-4176.
See you at the Library!