04 June 2009


Remember the old Tammy Wynette song, Our D-I-V-O-R-C-E .... and the song goes on to describe how their divorce becomes final blah blah blah... With our son going thru a divorce and the court mediation that took place yesterday (one step closer), it made me start wondering just how divorce has "progressed" thru the years.

In doing some preliminary research on the subject from a genealogical standpoint, we've come a long way! At one time the only cause for divorce was simply adultry. Sadly it caused many good names to be ruined under the pretense that they had committed adultry, when in fact it was the spouse that wanted out. When it was the woman who wanted out she had to also prove extreme cruelty. Before 1715 only five divorces were granted in the entire British kingdom. Today they say that one in three marriages ends in divorce.

If you were a member of the Church of England an annulment was another way out. Children from an annuled marriage were considered illegitimate and could not inherit from either parent. Boy what a mess that could make eh?

It appears to me from my research that divorce laws & practices varied from state to state depending mainly upon the religious influence found in the state. Even today, divorce rules vary from state to state.

Researching your ancestors divorce can be a profitable experience if you take the time to check all aspects and keep a few things in mind.

  • Rules for each state are different

  • Different states record divorces in different "court" departments, if you are not sure which one check them all

  • Remember that at the time of your ancestors divorce its possible that if that state was "difficult" your ancestor may have traveled to a state known for being "easy".

  • Local newspapers often publish legal notices of divorces and divorces granted.

  • After the civil war, running west was often a great way to get out of bad marriage

  • During many periods of our country's history, divorce had a stigma attached, so many times when a divorce took place, some divorced parties on census records used " widowed" instead of divorced.

Here in Michigan divorce records from 1867-1969 are indexed at the state library, summaries for 1897-1922 are also found there. To get the full history on the divorce you would have take the basic information in the index and go to the county involved to get the full record.

In order to research your ancestors divorce keep in mind that what you see as the cause may not have been the real reasons behind the split. Remember that many times RULES are what caused the reason to be what you see, not reality. Keep in mind desertion may be easier than divorce in some states.

Lastly, divorce is never easy, whether it be today or a hundred years ago. Drawing conclusions about our ancestors based on what we see in the divorce records of yesteryear may not paint an accurate picture of the persons we are researching. Take a few minutes and research the divorce laws in the state where you are working - it will not only make the research a bit easier but it also may help you see your ancestor in a different light.

Watching my son & his soon to be ex-wife labor thru this process has not been easy but it has been a learning experience for me. If it were up to me, it was a process I could have done without learning - but this is 2009 and we can't always have things the way we want them. Things happen, people change and life goes on. And soon, possibly late 2009 Tammy will again sing her song.... this time for a young couple who started out with big dreams 9 years ago and ended up singing Tammy's song instead.....

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