Pick a Spouse, Any Spouse
Are your ancestors' marriages causing you problems? Is your lack of knowledge of your ancestor's marriages creating a brick wall? When family members have only one relationship that produces children and that relationship is documented by a marriage, the work is easy. Of course that is not always the case. This week we look at some general suggestions for tracking your ancestors through their multiple marriages.
Who Got Re-Hitched?
The remarriage of the father does not present quite the same problem. The main difficulty may be in determining which wife is the mother of which children.
Clues to Remarriage
Think about your ancestor's life. Determine as best you can the age of all of your ancestor's children at the time the spouse died. Would the ancestor have had small children in the house after the death of the spouse? How old was the surviving spouse? Was the surviving spouse in a financial situation that would allow him or her to remain single, or would marriage have been an economic necessity? Are there grown children or other family members with whom the surviving parent could reside? The answers do not guarantee a subsequent marriage by the surviving parent, but may warrant a search of marriage records. Age, economic status, and ages of surviving children all play a role in whether or not a surviving spouse decides to remarry. Creating a chronology with the known information on your ancestor and their children is also an excellent idea.
Another clue to additional marriages are multiple maiden names for an ancestor. Multiple maiden names can arise for several reasons, most generally:
--- Multiple marriages
for the ancestor
Further research is warranted when last names are inconsistent.
Finally, are the names really different? Last names that appear to be different may actually be variants of the same name. One of my ancestors has a maiden name that appears as Bieger, Beger, Berger, Bigger, Biger, Picker, Pickar, Pickert, and Bickert. These are spelling and phonetic variations. The same is true for first names. Sarah and Sally may very well be the same person. Make certain that what you think are two separate people are not the same person listed once with their “real” name and once with their nickname.
Sources That May
Guardianships. Guardianship records are usually created when a man with real or significant personal property dies with minor children. A guardian is appointed to oversee the property until the minor heirs reach the age of majority. Guardianship records will indicate which parents are deceased and may or may not mention the mother, even if she survives. If the family had no property, there likely will be no guardianship records for any minor children. In some areas there may be records of apprenticeship, which may mention that a child has a deceased father.
Probate Records. Records of the settlement of an estate may mention the subsequent surname of a surviving widow. Wills may not include all children, either because some had already received their share or because they had a falling out with the writer of the will. Any court notices sent to heirs should list all children, even if all children were not listed in the will. If a list of heirs fails to include individuals you believe to be children of the will's writer, further research may have to be done. Some individuals you thought were children may not be children after all.
Marriage Records. Does the marriage record of your ancestor indicate the bride was a “Mrs.?” This is an obvious clue. It may be worth your while to look for both the husband and wife in later marriage records even if you don't think they were remarried.
Cemetery Records and Tombstones. These records may provide death dates not located in other records which may suggest an ancestor was a widow or widower for an extended period of time (and more likely to remarry). Adjacent burials may indicate an ancestor was married more than once. Look at the names on stones of those buried near your ancestor.
Death Records. An obvious source of death date information, look also for the name of the surviving spouse. Is it the same as the name you have?
Land Records. If your ancestral family owned land, locate all records where the land is acquired and all records where the land is transferred from family ownership. Records of transfer from family ownership are more likely to provide spousal clues. When the husband sells property, is it the same wife listed as giving up her rights of dower?
Court Records. Was your ancestor divorced? Divorce in the nineteenth century was not as common as it is today, but it was not unheard of either. Court records involving real property or inheritance are more likely to reveal spousal information than are other cases.
Virtually any record could reveal that your ancestor was married more than once. The records we've discussed here are some of the ones that are more likely to provide this information. Remember to leave no stone unturned!
A female with multiple maiden names may have been married more than once, or her mother may have been married more than once or had more than one relationship (not necessarily marriages), which produced children. Variant last names for male ancestors usually indicates that his father had multiple relationships, which may or may not have actually been marriages.
Of course, these are general tendencies, not hard and fast guarantees. There are no “always” rules in genealogy!
Next week we look at some situations where multiple marriages built some genealogical brick walls.
Michael John Neill is
the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA)
held annually in
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