Genealogy Checklist: 13 Types of Records to Include in Your Research

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena provides a handy tool to help with your family history research: a checklist of 13 types of genealogy records that you can use for each ancestor you search for, to make sure your research is thorough.

After conducting online searches through your favorite genealogy websites, you may feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. This is understandable—it’s easy to become overwhelmed with multiple databases and lose sight of what sources might help you answer your research question.

Before you decide you’re facing that brick wall, consult this checklist of frequently-used family history sources. A checklist of sources can help you plan out your research and keep track of where you have searched. Print this out for each individual you search for, and refer to it as you research your family history.

illustration of a magnifying glass

Illustration: magnifying glass. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

1) Census Records

One of the first places we often look for our family is in the U.S. Federal Census. The census should be your go-to source for trying to place your ancestor in time. The census was taken every 10 years starting in 1790. (However, the 1890 census was largely destroyed.) Because of privacy concerns, the latest census you can access is 1940.

As you think about your ancestor in the census, don’t forget that other census schedules exist aside from the familiar population schedules. Depending on the year, you may also want to consult the Mortality, Agriculture, Slave, Veterans and Defective, Dependent and Delinquent schedules.

Also take a note if the state your ancestor lived in conducted a state or territorial census. Not every state participated in such a census and in some cases a state may have only conducted one when it was still a territory, but a state census can often yield additional information not compiled in the federal census.

2) Church or Synagogue Records

What religion was your ancestor? This is important, especially considering that in some cases a religious record might take the place of a civil registration. What records should you look for? The answer is: it depends. It depends on where your ancestor lived, what religion they practiced, and what still exists.

Records that might exist include those that document baptisms, christenings, marriages, and deaths. Other religious records include: cemetery records, school records, censuses, meeting notes, membership lists, pew deeds, adoption records, excommunications, church periodical articles, directories, and church auxiliary records. Exhaust religious databases found online like the selection found at JewishGen. To find church records, consult the individual meeting house and then archives associated with that religious community, including academic institutions and seminaries. Also, consider conducting a place search in the Family History Library Catalog.

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3) Court Records

Even if you think your ancestor would have no interaction with the local court, don’t overlook searching at least the civil case index for their name. Our ancestors were involved in all sorts of legal matters, and it’s a myth to believe that only our modern society is “sue happy.” Some items to look for include minutes, orders/decrees, judgments, case files, indexes, criminal proceedings, naturalizations, and divorce petitions. Learn more about what court records exist by reading the book The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood. Note that you can also find court case files and courtroom transcripts in GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives.

4) Death Records

Death results in a lot of paperwork. Sure, there’s the death certificate—but that’s just the beginning. There can be paperwork from the hospital, funeral home and cemetery. What other paperwork can be found? Death certificates, newspapers (including articles, legal notices, funeral notices, death notices and obituaries), funeral home records, pension records, church records, cemetery records, court records (to include a will or probate or in the case of an accident there might be a lawsuit), Coroner’s Inquest, city directories, and the Social Security Death Index. Notices from membership directories and publications may also offer clues.

5) Home Sources

Every genealogy project should begin with home sources. These are the heirlooms and “stuff” inherited and passed down through the generations. Sometimes just talking about your interest in genealogy will alert family members that you would be a grateful recipient of items that they have inherited. What are some possible home sources? Correspondence, newspaper clippings, photos, scrapbooks, diaries and journals, family Bibles, naturalization paperwork, funeral home cards, and work- and school-related papers. As you try to find home sources, don’t forget to use social media to connect with long-lost cousins who have also inherited heirlooms.

6) Land Records

Did your ancestor own land or a home? You’ll want to search for a grantee/grantor index, deeds, mortgages, patents and grants. These records can be found anywhere from the Family History Library, a local courthouse or a county recorder’s office, to the National Archives. Make sure to plan out what you are looking for and search online for what entity has that record.

7) Major Life Events

Let’s face it, a birth or marriage can result in all kinds of documentation. Everything from home sources (think baby books and photo albums filled with greeting cards and descriptions of the big day), to official government records (vital record certificates) and church records. Don’t forget newspaper articles about the actual event (birth or marriage) as well as articles about the engagement, elopement or milestone anniversaries. Marriage records that could exist include: banns, bonds, licenses/applications, and certificates.

8) Military Service Records

Did your ancestor serve in the military? If they were a soldier at any point, think about searching for military service records, pensions, bounty land grants, awards, draft registrations, unit histories, battle histories and maps. Been told that all of your ancestor’s military records burned? Make sure to check for a Final Pay Voucher and ask your recent vets about the DD214 which lists information about their service including awards earned.

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9) Historical Newspapers

Many of the life events we have mentioned were reported in newspaper articles. But don’t forget that your ancestor could be mentioned in all parts of the newspaper, including legal notices, advertisements, society pages, crime reports, and other general articles. Not sure what types of articles exist? On the GenealogyBank Blog we focus on a variety of newspaper articles and how they can assist your genealogical research.

10) Occupational Records

Even if your ancestor was “just a farmer,” an occupation can leave behind a paper trail. Consider items like paycheck stubs, occupational periodicals, union records, membership cards and records to professional groups. Mentions of occupations can also be found in the city directory.

11) Published Sources

There are many different types of published sources that can assist you throughout your family history research. In some cases, like that of unsourced family history books, they may be just a place to gather initial clues. In other cases, however, they can provide you with definitive information to confirm your ancestor’s place in time, such as city directories.

Make sure to consult biographical works on your ancestor or their associates, county and local histories, and periodical indexes like PERSI, Google Scholar and JSTOR.

12) School Days

What schools did your ancestor attend? Even if they only attended for a few years, records may be available. Consider what may be available from attending an Elementary, Secondary, High, or Vocational/Trade school, as well as a College or University. Papers may in some cases be found in the home, but also could be found in an archive or the Family History Library. Look for yearbooks and alumni directories, school newspapers, articles about school awards and events in local newspapers, award certificates, report cards, and school census records.

13) Tax Records

We all know the saying “nothing is certain but death and taxes,” and that is as true for us now as it was for our ancestors. Why search tax records? They can not only establish a place in time for your ancestors, but they help you better understand their lives.

Some ideas about tax records that could exist are: poll, personal property, real estate, income, federal, inheritance, and school taxes. Don’t forget that the newspaper also printed lists of those who were negligent in paying their taxes.

Is the above list of 13 genealogical sources totally comprehensive? No, of course not, but it provides a handy reference for your family history research. As you plan your genealogy searches, also consider what libraries, archives, and museums exist where your ancestor lived. They may have catalogs that will provide you with additional sources that you may not have known existed.

You can either print or create a PDF version of this Blog post by simply clicking on the green “Print/PDF” button below. The PDF version makes it easy to save this post on your desktop or portable device for quick reference—all the links will be live.

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Top Genealogy Websites: Arkansas Genealogy Resources for Records

Are you researching your family roots in Arkansas? Here are some good resources for Arkansas genealogy information online—GenealogyBank and vital records put up by the state itself, as well as FamilySearch—to help with your family history research in “The Natural State.”

GenealogyBank has an extensive collection of Arkansas newspapers online from 1819 to Today.

Search Arkansas Newspaper Archives (1819 – 1999)

Search Arkansas Recent Obituaries (1999 – Current)

Discover a variety of genealogy records and news stories in these 23 Arkansas newspapers:

Search recent obituary records for your relatives in these 55 Arkansas newspapers:

Click on the image below to download a printable list of the Arkansas newspapers in GenealogyBank for your future reference. You can save to your desktop and click the titles to go directly to your newspaper of interest.

Feel free to share this list of Arkansas newspapers on your blog or website using the embed code provided below this article.

In addition to all the vital records you can find in newspapers, there are several collections of Arkansas vital records online to help with your family history research.

Some of the important collections you want to use are:

Arkansas Probate Records (1817-1979)

photo of Arkansas Probate Records, 1817-1979, from FamilySearch.org

Credit: Arkansas Probate Records, 1817-1979, FamilySearch.org

As you can see from the above example, this is a collection of digital copies of the original county probate records.

Currently this collection has 940,000 digital wills and probate papers from the following counties (click on the county name to see the probate record):

Arkansas History Commission: Arkansas Deaths (1819-1920)

The Arkansas History Commission has undertaken an important effort to index multiple sources that give the date of death for Arkansas residents from 1819-1920. They have indexed county death registers, census mortality schedules, obituary indexes, funeral home registers, Confederate pension registers and similar sources.

photo of the online death index provided by the Arkansas History Commission

Credit: Arkansas History Commission

Arkansas County Marriage Records (1837-1957)

This important online collection has more than 1 million digital copies of Arkansas marriage records online. These records were indexed by FamilySearch and the Arkansas Genealogical Society.

photo of the online index for Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957, provided by FamilySearch.org

Credit: Arkansas County Marriages, 1837-1957, FamilySearch.org

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Top Genealogy Websites, Pt. 5: State Vital Records in the U.S.

A growing number of states in the U.S. are putting their vital records online, making it easier for genealogists to obtain these records.

collage of genealogy records available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is a prime example of how these state projects are revolutionizing family history research in the 21st Century.

West Virginia has put up millions of genealogical documents including:

wedding records for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History

With a click you can see the original vital records registers for the Mountain State.

Take for example the marriage of Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport on 5 June 1808 in Charles Town, West Virginia.

wedding records for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and GenealogyBank

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History and GenealogyBank

West Virginia has given us easy online access to the original entry in the 1808 marriage register for this couple’s marriage.

photo of the wedding register for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport available online from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Credit: West Virginia Division of Culture and History

Brief and to the point: we get the date of their marriage, their names and the name of the minister that performed the wedding.

Couple that information with their marriage announcement that we find in GenealogyBank and we get the rest of the story.

wedding announcement for Joseph Strother and Amelia Davenport, Farmer’s Repository newspaper article 10 June 1808

Farmer’s Repository (Charleston, West Virginia), 10 June 1808, page 2

The marriage announcement tells us that the minister, Rev. Mr. Mines, is of Leesburg (Loudoun County), Virginia.

Now we know where to look for the church registers of that denomination.

From the marriage announcement we also learn that the groom, Joseph Strother, is of Madison County, Virginia, and that the bride, Miss Amelia Davenport, is the daughter of Major A. Davenport of Jefferson County, West Virginia.

This is critical information for genealogists.

Now we know where to dig deeper for information about the Strother and Davenport families: Jefferson, Loudoun and Madison counties.

Newspapers are the cutting-edge source for genealogists. GenealogyBank has made it easy to find facts like these details of the Strother-Davenport wedding. Combine this newspaper information with states like West Virginia putting digital copies of the original birth, marriage and death registers online—and it’s easy to see that this is a great time for genealogists!

For reference, here is a list provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of all the state websites offering vital records across the United States: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/w2w.htm

How to Find Georgia Marriage Records

It is easy to find copies of your Georgia ancestors’ marriage certificates and records using two basic online genealogy tools: GenealogyBank.com and FamilySearch.org. If your ancestors lived in Georgia, let’s see how we can find information about them.

marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton found using FamilySearch's Georgia marriage records

Marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton found using FamilySearch’s Georgia marriage records. Credit: FamilySearch.

FamilySearch.org has put Georgia marriage records from 1785 to 1950 online.

You may search for these old marriage records online here: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1927197

A typical search will produce a marriage certificate like this one for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton.

marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton

Marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton. Credit: FamilySearch.

Image Credit: “Georgia, County Marriages, 1785-1950,” index and images, FamilySearch: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KXVC-7NK Accessed 19 March 2013, Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton, 1879.

This historical marriage certificate tells us that they were married by the Rev. Walker Lewis on 10 September 1879 in Bibb County, Georgia.

Marriage certificates can be brief and to the point. As genealogists we are thrilled to have them and to look at them—but we want to know more about the couple and their wedding.

Newspapers can give us even more details on the lives of our ancestors.

Let’s start searching the marriage records that were published in Georgia newspapers.

Let’s strategize this search.

In this case the groom’s surname, Dense, is a common word—but the surname itself is not very common. The word “dense” could possibly appear in a marriage announcement, but it is not likely to come up except as a surname.

By searching on the “Georgia Marriage Records” page in GenealogyBank I can focus my search results to bring up just marriage announcements that were printed in Georgia newspapers.

GenealogyBank search page for Georgia Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements

GenealogyBank search page for Georgia Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements

Search Georgia marriage records at GenealogyBank here: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/explore/USA/Georgia/?type=marriage_engagement

GenealogyBank search box and search results page for Dense wedding

GenealogyBank search box and search results page for Dense wedding

That worked: their wedding announcement was the first of ten search results.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

The historical newspaper article is giving us a lot more detail about the wedding then the basic facts recorded on the marriage certificate—so many details that we can almost picture the wedding in our minds.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

  • For example, we learn that the couple was married at the First Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia.
  • The church, “crowded to its utmost capacity,” was “tastefully decorated with evergreens” at half past eight in the evening when the wedding began.
  • The old newspaper article named the members of the wedding party and chief guests.
  • The Rev. Walker Lewis performed the wedding ceremony “in a clear and distinct manner.”
  • At the end of the ceremony “Professor Coley played the wedding march.”

Think about it—the details, the setting…picture the wedding scene in your mind.

The end of the old newspaper marriage announcement gives us even more details about the family and their occupations, and describes the reception and supper that followed at the bride’s father’s (Reuben Thornton) home on Second Street.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

Details about special life events like this are only found in historical newspapers.

These are two great genealogy resources for finding your Georgia marriage records: the certificates on FamilySearch, and the newspaper marriage announcements in GenealogyBank with the details about the couple and the wedding.

Oh, the newspaper editor added one more comment about this wedding.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

The editor had described the packed church and the beautiful wedding and added “At the close Professor Coley played the wedding march, and the dense audience dispersed.”

It’s great to not only learn about the details of our ancestors’ lives and weddings— it’s also fun to see the wry humor of the times.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

Irish American Genealogy & Family History Facts Infographic

Irish American Genealogy & Family History Facts Infographic

In celebration of Irish Heritage Month, here are some interesting facts about Irish ancestry in America.

Irish American Population Statistics

  • There are 34.5 million people who claim Irish ancestry in America
  • Approximately 11% of the total United States population is Irish American
  • There are over 7 times more people of Irish descent in the United States than the entire population of Ireland

History of Irish Immigration to America

There were 2 major waves of Irish immigration to America.

  1. The first immigration period was in the Colonial era of the 18th century. These people set sail from the northern provinces of Ireland looking for new lives as American pioneers. The migration consisted of approximately 250,000 Scots-Irish who were predominately Protestant. The major ports of entry for these incoming Irish immigrants were in New York and Philadelphia.
  1. The second wave of immigration was between 1846 and 1900. During this period approximately 2,873,000 people fled to America from the southern provinces of Ireland. This was primarily due to the Great Irish Potato Famine, which caused poverty and starvation throughout Ireland. These new arrivals were predominately of Catholic denomination. The major American ports of entry were in New York and Boston. The Irish also arrived on trains and ships from Canada, which was then called British North America.

Origins of the Saying “Luck of the Irish”

During the 1848-1855 California Gold Rush many Irish immigrants headed out West to mine silver & gold. Many Americans said the immigrants’ mining success was due to luck, not skill—hence the saying “Luck of the Irish.”

Common Irish Surnames

Here is a list of the top 10 most common Irish last names and their meanings:

  • Murphy – Sea Battlers
  • Kelly – Bright-headed Ones
  • O’Sullivan – Hawkeyed Ones
  • Walsh – Welshmen
  • O’Brien – Noblemen
  • Byrne – Ravens
  • Ryan – Little Kings
  • O’Connor – Patrons of Warriors
  • O’Neill - From a Champion, Niall of the Nine Hostages
  • O’Reilly – Outgoing People, Descendants of Reilly

Percentage of Irish Americans by State

The Northeastern United States has the highest concentration of Irish Americans. The following 9 states all have more than 15% Irish ancestry in their total populations. The states are listed in descending order from highest to lowest total Irish population percentages. Massachusetts has the highest percentage in the United States with 22.5% of its residents claiming Irish ancestry.

  1. Massachusetts
  2. New Hampshire
  3. Rhode Island
  4. Delaware
  5. Connecticut
  6. Vermont
  7. Pennsylvania
  8. New Jersey
  9. Maine

The following 9 U.S. states also have high Irish American populations of 12-14%. Montana has the highest in this range with 14.8% of its population claiming Irish ancestry.

  1. Montana
  2. Iowa
  3. Nebraska
  4. Wyoming
  5. New York
  6. Missouri
  7. Ohio
  8. Colorado
  9. Illinois

11% to 11.9% of the residents in the following 7 states claim Irish ancestry.

  1. Oregon
  2. Maryland
  3. Kansas
  4. Washington
  5. Minnesota
  6. Nevada
  7. West Virginia

The remaining states have less than 11% Irish ancestry in their total populations.

Famous Americans Who Are a Wee Bit Irish

From presidents to outlaws, there have been many famous Irish Americans throughout U.S. history. Here are a few of them:

  • John F. Kennedy a.k.a. JFK: 35th President of the United States
  • Henry Ford: Founder of Ford Motor Company
  • Barack Obama: 44th President of the United States
  • William Henry McCarty Jr. a.k.a. Billy the Kid: Outlaw
  • Judy Garland: Actress & Singer
  • Bill O’Reilly: TV Host & Political Commentator
  • Conan O’Brien: TV Host & Comedian
  • Grace Kelly: Actress & Princess of Monaco
  • Walter Elias Disney a.k.a. Walt Disney: Film Producer & Co-founder of the Walt Disney Company
  • Danica Patrick: NASCAR Driver
  • Eddie Murphy: Actor & Comedian
  • Mel Gibson: Actor & Film Producer

Top Irish Genealogy Records

The top genealogy records to trace your Irish roots are:

Did You Know?

Civil registration in Ireland didn’t begin until 1864, although some non-Catholic marriages were recorded as early as 1845. Fortunately for genealogists, Irish American newspapers routinely published the news of Irish births, marriages and deaths for more than half a century before Ireland started recording them.

Got a little Irish in you? Discover your Irish American ancestry at http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/ethnic/irish_american/

Follow GenealogyBank on social media with hashtag #IrishHeritage for more Irish American genealogy facts throughout Irish Heritage Month.

Sources:

http://www.biography.com/people/groups/famous-irish-americans

http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb13-ff03.html

http://www.edwardtodonnell.com/

http://www.energyofanation.org/waves_of_irish_immigration.html

http://www.irishcentral.com/roots/The-10-most-popular-Irish-last-names-2-133737553.html?page=3

http://names.mongabay.com/ancestry/st-Irish.html

http://www.udel.edu/soe/deal/IrishImmigrationFacts.html

http://www.wikipedia.org/

Genealogy Records You Can Find In Newspaper Archives Infographic

Genealogy Records in Newspaper Archives

Is the Infographic image above too small? See the larger version.

Newspapers offer a variety of genealogy records that you can use to trace back your family tree. Learn about the types of genealogy records that can be found in newspapers and discover the family history information that each record type contains below.

Obituaries

Obituaries are an excellent source of genealogical information. Obits contain your deceased ancestor’s date of death and burial place, and often provide details about their spouse, children, parents as well as other extended family.

Passenger Lists

From passenger ships arriving at naturalization ports to stage coaches traveling across the frontier, several types of passenger lists are printed in newspapers. These lists contain the names of our traveling ancestors.

Birth Records

Birth records in newspapers include birth announcements and birth notices. These records contain the name of the newborn, time, date and place of birth as well as information about the infant’s parents, siblings and grandparents.

Legal Records

Many types of legal records are made public in newspapers. Probate records, court case records and name change records contain valuable genealogical information such as ancestors’ names, relatives, places of residence and more.

Photographs

Newspapers record many of life’s special moments. As such, you can find pictures of your ancestors in wedding photos, family reunion photos, birthday photos and old photo illustrations and sketches often printed in newspapers.

Marriage Records

Engagement announcements and marriage records are commonly printed in newspapers. These records give the name of the bride and groom, and provide details about the wedding including family members and friends in attendance.

New & Improved Newspaper Search!

With GenealogyBank’s new newspaper search functionality you can easily search each of the genealogy record types covered here to discover more about your family history.

Search now at: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/

Click the options in the left navigation to search by record types.

Genealogy Search Tip: Are Your Queries Returning Too Many Records?

GenealogyBank has grown from 160 million records since its inception to over 1.3 billion records today. That is a lot of articles to search through to find information about your family history. Genealogists often approach GenealogyBank with a direct search—using a surname—searching across the entire database to make sure we don’t miss any genealogy records about the family.

Sometimes, though, the simplest search query returns too many records for you to reasonably examine them all. When that happens, GenealogyBank has created over a dozen targeted search pages to help you narrow down the number of results you get back. Here’s a quick list of these helpful targeted search pages to get you started:

You can also perform targeted ethnic family searches with our African American, Hispanic and Irish American search pages.

Use these special search pages to narrow down your search to a particular type of newspaper article, as the following example shows.

Let’s say you’re searching for all the arrivals and departures of the ship Hector. If you search GenealogyBank just using the word “Hector,” you’ll get 400,000 hits. But, if you search the word “Hector” using the handy Passenger Lists link on our home page or in the left navigation pane of the Newspaper Archives category, you can narrow those search results to 14,000 passenger and ship records that specifically mention the ship Hector.

GenealogyBank Passenger List search for "Hector"

GenealogyBank Passenger List search for “Hector”

Even 14,000 records are a lot to examine. Limit the search again by a range of years when your relatives likely arrived on the ship Hector and you’ll have a manageable number of articles to sift through. Let’s say you are reasonably sure your ancestors arrived in America on the ship Hector sometime between 1820 and 1825—go ahead and use that date range in your search query.

GenealogyBank search results page for Passenger List search on "Hector" from 1820-1825

GenealogyBank search results page for Passenger List search on “Hector” from 1820-1825

Save time and zero in on the articles you need. GenealogyBank has more than a dozen targeted search pages: use them to focus your searches for the type of newspaper article you are looking for.

GenealogyBank targeted search pages

GenealogyBank targeted search pages

Gin Marriages, Gretna Greens & Your Ancestor’s Marriage Records

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena explains why gin marriage laws and Gretna Greens may have something to do with your ancestors’ marriage records appearing in unexpected newspapers from the 1920s and 1930s.

Where did you get married? Was it a town near where you lived? Did you run away to get married?

We often feel frustrated when we can’t find our ancestor’s marriage records in the most obvious place: the town they lived in. But let’s face it, not everyone gets married where they live. Maybe your ancestor chose to go to a “Gretna Green.”

What’s a Gretna Green?

Named after a city in Scotland, Gretna Greens are cities where couples run off to get married. According to the website The Gretna Wedding Bureau, Scotland historically has had lax requirements for marriage: a couple only had to be over 16 years of age and declare themselves husband and wife in front of witnesses. Because it was easy to get married in Scotland, people from neighboring countries flocked to marry there. Gretna Green was the first post along the route from England to the Scottish border, so it was a convenient wedding destination for eloping couples. Even today, Gretna Green, Scotland, continues to be a popular wedding destination.

There are Gretna Greens all over the United States. One of the most popular Gretna Greens is Las Vegas, NV. But even less glitzy places are popular wedding destinations for a whole host of reasons, especially places where couples can get married quickly without the requirement of blood tests, medical examinations or a marriage license. A Gretna Green might be the answer for couples who want to skip the hassle and expense of a traditional wedding and any disapproving family members.

Some people don’t want to wait to get married—for a variety of reasons.

Typically there is some time involved between the excitement of getting engaged and the actual wedding date. However, born out of a belief that those who married hastily, and perhaps while under the influence of alcohol, were more likely to divorce, some states enacted waiting periods between the time a marriage license was filed and the day the wedding could take place.

One state that enacted such a law was California. In 1927 California passed a “gin marriage” law. This law required a three-day waiting period from the time the couple purchased their marriage license until they could actually tie the knot.

Couples Must Give Notice of Bans, San Diego Union newspaper article 21 May 1927

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 21 May 1927, page 11

As with any good intention there were some unanticipated results with this marriage legislation. While the law stopped couples from marrying quickly in California, it drove them to nearby out-of-state Gretna Greens such as Yuma, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada, where they could secure “quickie” weddings. During one year of enforcement of California’s marriage law, Yuma—then a town of 5,000 residents—recorded 17,000 marriages! During the years of California’s gin marriage law, both Yuma and Las Vegas became the hip place for Hollywood stars and everyday people to get married.

Government officials started becoming wise to couples crossing state borders to marry in states with no gin marriage laws. In reaction, more laws affecting marrying couples were passed. Some of those laws required blood tests to check for venereal disease, as in the following example.

Gin-Marriage Ban, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 30 January 1939

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 30 January 1939, section 2, page 4

Here is another historical newspaper article about a gin marriage law, this one in New York.

Gin Marriage Law Reduces Gretna Green's Dawn Rites, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 26 May 1938

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 May 1938, section 1, page 11

This old newspaper article points out how effective the gin marriage law has been in curbing drunken couples from impulsively getting married in the middle of the night:

“At last the 3 a.m. marriage evil became intolerable. Dozens of young squirts with a snootful of bubble-water were wont to shoot to nearby Gretna Greens toward dawn, rout out sleepy but fee-hungry clerks and Justices, and become spliced before they had any notion what day it was, if any at all. This made dandy copy for the gaudier press, but it distressed the quieter element who still believed that marriages were not properly made in a tub of Scotch and soda.

“Jane Todd acted with her bill, and the law soon read that seventy-two hours had to elapse between license and the vows. Now a quick checkup reveals that it works fine.”

Can’t find an ancestor’s marriage record from the late 1920s or the 1930s? Maybe they decided to elope to a nearby Gretna Green. After all, who wants to wait when you’re in love?

How to Search for an Ancestor Whose Last Name Is a Common Word

We often get this question: What do I do when the surname I’m searching for generates thousands of hits because it is a common word (like Brown, Green or Coffee)?

Yes, searching for information on ancestors with ambiguous surnames can be a problem.

GenealogyBank often recommends searching using only the surname as the best way to maximize your search result hits and find the best target articles about your ancestor.

But a surname such as “Coffee” certainly can generate a lot of extra newspaper articles.

GenealogyBank search results page for search term "Coffee"

GenealogyBank search results page for search term “Coffee”

Scanning this list of search results we can quickly see articles about coffee roasters, flavor and other irrelevant articles—clearly not what the genealogist is looking for.

How do you find the genealogy records you are looking for?

GenealogyBank’s search results page has search tools to help you eliminate some of those extra newspaper articles and increase the likelihood of finding articles about your Coffee ancestor.

GenealogyBank search results page showing "article types"

GenealogyBank search results page showing “article types”

Look closely at the left column on the search results page. That is a list of “article types.”

GenealogyBank classifies the articles in our collection of over 6,100 newspapers into types: Historical Obituaries, Marriage Records, etc.

These article types can really help narrow the results of your genealogy search for your Coffee ancestor.

For example, try clicking on “Historical Obituaries.”

GenealogyBank "article type: historical obituaries" results for search term "Coffee"

GenealogyBank “article type: historical obituaries” results for search term “Coffee”

Now we’re not seeing any articles about coffee roasters or flavors of coffee—most of these obituary search results are about deceased people named Coffee.

If we click on “Marriage Records” we see similar results.

GenealogyBank "article type: marriage records" results for search term "Coffee"

GenealogyBank “article type: marriage records” results for search term “Coffee”

We can immediately see that these articles are mostly marriage and wedding announcements for people with the surname “Coffee.”

This genealogy search approach will save family history researchers a lot of time by limiting the website’s search results to the ones you want to use to document your family. The results will still include obituaries or marriage records that contain the word “coffee” in the text of the article. For example, perhaps the person was not named Coffee, but instead was employed by a coffee company or lived in Coffee City, Texas. The word “coffee” might appear in these articles for all types of reasons, but at least this genealogy search tip will help you get more relevant articles about Coffee the person, not the object.

Try your next ancestor search at GenealogyBank using the “article types” to better focus your search results.

 

Treasured Discovery: Only-Known Photos of Ancestors Found in Old Newspapers

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott tells about finding the only-known photos of two of his ancestors in old newspaper wedding announcements—and a surprising engagement notice that told him something he never knew about his own mother!

Summertime! The livin’ is easy and traditionally it is the time for weddings. My bride and I just celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary a short time ago and it got me to thinking about how much I have gained in my family history and genealogy work from searching for engagement notices and wedding announcements in GenealogyBank.com.

Mr. & Mrs. Scott Phillips Wedding Photo 1975

The author’s wedding photo from 1975.

As many of us go about developing and nurturing our family trees, I think you’ll agree that one of the best aspects of that work is discovering photographs of our ancestors. Let me tell you, few places that I have found beat newspaper engagement and wedding stories for personal photos—sometimes the only picture anyone in the family has of a particular ancestor. I have had terrific success in my family tree with these types of articles.

A great example was the newspaper article I recently found when researching my Havlic branch. I discovered the wedding announcement for Eleanor Anna Havlic as reported in the Plain Dealer on 30 September 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Not only was I thrilled that there was a picture of my ancestor, but it showed some lovely period dress for a 1928 wedding. Additionally, I was treated to the names of parents, spouse, in-laws, addresses of both, the new couple’s home address, bridal party members, wedding date, and the name of their church.

Mrs Louis J Beran Old Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 30 September 1928, page 50.

Another nice find for me was the wedding story of another cousin, Margaret Tager, again in the Plain Dealer (27 August 1961) in Cleveland. Once more I was excited to find an old wedding photo that illustrated the current fashion, this time of the early 1960s, plus addresses, parents’ and in-laws’ names, the name of the church where the ceremony was held—and there was even a mention of where both the bride and groom attended college. As an added treat, the newspaper article explained where the couple honeymooned.

Margaret Ann Tager Marriage Announcement

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 27 August 1961, page 108.

In the case of both of the above family members, the old newspaper articles provided me with the only photos I have of these particular ancestors, which make them all the more important to my work, my family, and our family tree.

Oh, and don’t forget that every so often you just might find one of those “ah-ha” moments we all enjoy so much in genealogy. I had one myself not long ago.

After working on one of my grandparent’s branches I was having some fun searching different family surnames to see what I could find. As I was running my grandmother’s married name lo and behold I found an engagement announcement! I clicked on the article to find…my mother had been engaged one time before becoming engaged to, and then marrying, the man who was to become my father. This was a fact that had not been a topic of discussion in my life ever before.

Thank goodness my mom made the choice she did or I wouldn’t be here writing this today!

That was a close call…and a really fun discovery.