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# Tuesday, February 05, 2013
Tabloid Divorces Have Nothing on These Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Last week I promised to tell you how I got my third-great-grandparents’ divorce record. 

It went on my genealogy to-do list after a random search of historical newspaper website GenealogyBank resulted in newspaper notices when my third-great-grandmother filed for divorce in 1879 (below), and again when the divorce was granted two years later.


You know when you think something is going to be a big ordeal so you procrastinate, then when you finally get the ball rolling it turns out to be a piece of cake and you wish you did it ages ago?

I had checked FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com and USGenWeb to see if I could get digital or microfilmed copies. Nope. So I thought I’d have to figure out which of the two county courthouses to go to, find time to make the trip, get a babysitter, search out the records, and so on.

When I started planning a visit and called the courthouse (after first checking online for info on old records), the nice lady there said, “Oh, we don’t keep records that far back,” at which point I may have made strange choking sounds. Then she continued, “You’ll have to call the state archives in Frankfort.” 

I checked the Kentucky State Archives’ website and learned it does have divorce records from the time and place I needed, and you can print a request form to fill out and send with a $15 fee. Easy peasy.

A few days later, I had an email from a state archivist. The file was 103 pages(!) and I’d need to send an additional fee for copies of the whole thing.

When I called to pay over the phone, I asked the archivist what’s typically in a historical divorce file, just to make sure I wouldn’t be ordering a bunch of blank pages. She flipped through and said it looked pretty meaty, with lots of depositions. “We’ll get this copied today and sent out tomorrow,” she said.

After a few days impatient days, The Big Envelope was in my mailbox.  The first page had this on it:

I spread out the pages on the counter, squinting at the handwriting and trying to glean all the clues I could—such as my third-great-grandmother's maiden name—while protecting them from my 2-year-old's applesauce splatters.

"Meaty" is an accurate description. So far I've found all the makings of a tabloid-worthy divorce: accusations of cruelty and mental instability (along with a physician's testimony about my ancestor's "cycles"—I guess doctor-patient confidentiality was still in the future), custody fights, and insinuations of an improper relationship between my third-great-grandmother and a younger man.

I'm still going over the papers and I'll blog more later about genealogical clues I discover (that way I can call it work). 

Thinking about researching your ancestors' court records? Click here for FamilyTreeMagazine.com tips on finding the right courthouse.

Then check out our courthouse research guide digital download, available in ShopFamilyTree.com

Depending on the type of court records you're looking for, you'll also find in-depth help in our Using Guardianship Records in Genealogical Research video class with Marian Pierre-Louis and our Using Criminal Court Records on-demand webinar with Judy G. Russell.



court records | Female ancestors | Libraries and Archives | Research Tips
Tuesday, February 05, 2013 9:11:39 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
Saturday, February 09, 2013 6:09:44 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Good for you! This information adds "flesh and bones" to our ancestors and helps us realize that it all t'weren't pretty in the "good ol' days." ;)
Kay McCullough
Monday, February 11, 2013 11:57:14 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Divorce files are definitely worth looking for though they are not the easiest items to find. What makes them so tough to locate is there was no "divorce" clerk like there was a marriage clerk. Divorces were just regular court records filed amongst all the other court filings. I've worked to index thousands of divorces for my locale and depending on the time period, there could have been multiple local courts (e.g. Chancery, Circuit, Domestic Relations, etc...) handling divorce cases all during the same time, thus searching for them may mean searching through multiple courts in an attempt to locate the divorce record.

Despite the difficulty in searching for them, divorces can yield valuable information. Most divorces state the date and location of marriage, children and ages and sometimes the wife's maiden name. They also list the claimed cause for divorce. Prior to the advent of no-fault divorce, they were only granted based on what was allowed under state law, usual causes being abandonment (by far the most numerous cause), adultery, bigamy and the like.

One final thought. Many divorces were filed but never seen through to completion, eventually being dismissed by the court. It may be that your ancestor once filed for divorce but dropped it during the process or it was not granted on grounds that they didn't meet statutory requirements, thus they remained married thereafter. Just because the "happy" couple appears married throughout their lives doesn't mean they lived "happily ever after" and clues to their problems can be found in divorce filings.
Eric Head
Comments are closed.