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?

Portuguese-American newspaper going online

Diario de Noticias 1919-1973 is going online at University of Massachusetts Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives.

UMASS Dartmouth is putting the backfile of the Portuguese-American newspaper Diario de Noticias 1919-1973 free online.

University officials also announced that they have set September 18 as the official grand opening of the Ferreira Mendes Portuguese-American Archives, which the University is planning to make the most comprehensive and accessible U.S. collection of the information related to the Portuguese-American experience.

The digitization project, completed by the Claire T. Carney Library’s Ferreira Mendes Portuguese-American Archives in collaboration with the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, will make the 84,010 pages from 16,641 issues of the Diario de Noticias freely accessible to the world.

Click here to search this newspaper.

“By digitizing these documents, we are now able to share this unique resource with the rest of the world,” UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said. “Thanks the financial support of the Azorean government, Luis Pedroso, and Elisia Saab — students, faculty and citizens from the SouthCoast to all corners of the globe, will have a major collection of Portuguese-American history at their fingertips. This is an exciting step in our development as the premier U.S. center of teaching and research related to the Portuguese-American experience which has shaped so much of our local and global history.”

Chancellor MacCormack also announced that the University will officially open the new archives facility with a major celebration on September 18.

Diario de Noticias was the most influential Portuguese-American newspaper of its era and the only Portuguese-American daily newspaper for much of that time. The newspaper was a critical independent voice during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar (1928 to 1968).

The Diario de Noticias, widely known at the time as the “Portuguese Daily News,” began as Alvorada Diária (Daily Awakening) in 1919, when Guilherme Luiz purchased A Alvorada, a weekly Portuguese-language newspaper published in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1919 it became a daily, and in 1927 the name was changed to Diário de Notícias.

João R. Rocha purchased half ownership in 1940, and then bought out the paper, becoming publisher and sole owner in 1943. The paper enjoyed great success and a circulation of up to 10,000 that spanned the entire region, and was also read across the country, where the Portuguese had settled since the nineteenth century, and even in Portugal. It ceased publication when Rocha retired in 1973.

Its local successors are the Portuguese Times and O Jornal. “The Diario de Noticias is an invaluable resource for the study of the Portuguese-American daily experience in the region and beyond,” said Dr. Frank Sousa, director of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture.

“In the advertisements and photographs we can glimpse the clothes people wore and the goods they purchased and for how much. There is news from the community not available in other newspapers, with reporting on local clubs, religious organizations, societies, businesses and politics. Weddings, births, and deaths are reported, providing a valuable source for social historians and genealogists.

“The goal of the ongoing digitization project is to provide the most comprehensive single source of Portuguese language newspapers published in the United States from the early nineteenth century to the present. The project is funded by the Government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, Elisia Saab, co-founder of Advanced Polymers, Inc.; and Luis Pedroso, president of Accutronics, Inc.

This newspaper is not on GenealogyBank.com
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Search Old Charleston, SC Newspapers 1723-1975

GenealogyBank has set up a handy site for searching Charleston, South Carolina’s historical newspaper archive: 1723-1975.

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Carolina Gazette 1723-1828
Charleston Courier 1803-1822
Charleston Evening Gazette 1785-1786
Charleston Mercury 1854-1859
Charleston Morning Post 1786-1787
Chronicle of Liberty 1783
City Gazette 1787-1842
Columbian Herald 1784 – 1796
Daily Evening Gazette 1795 – 1795
Echo du Sud 1801
Evening Courier 1798
Investigator 1812-1814
Oracle 1784 – 1824
South Carolina State Gazette 1794 – 1828
South-Carolina Weekly Advertiser 1783
South-Carolina Weekly Gazette 1783 – 1786
Southern Evangelical Intelligencer 1819 – 1820
Southern Patriot 1831 – 1848
Strength of the People 1809 – 1810
Telegraph 1795 – 1922
Times 1790 – 1820

NY genealogist featured in newspaper article

Lawrence Corbett, Watertown, NY family historian, has been researching since 1976 when his mother compiled their family history and published it in a spiral bound book.

He is the Corresponding Secretary of the Jefferson County (NY) Genealogical Society.

Click here to see the article about Corbett’s research experience and advice. The article appeared in today’s (4 April 2009) Watertown Daily Times (NY).

GenealogyBank has the Watertown Daily Times (20 Jan 1988 to Today, America’s Obituaries) and over 300 other New York newspapers.

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