For Valentine’s Day: Researching Your Ancestor’s Love Story

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega shows how newspaper articles about your ancestor’s engagement, wedding and anniversary provide a lot of family history. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and what a great time to research your ancestor’s love story. Engagements, marriages, and anniversaries are well-documented in historical newspapers, and they provide opportunities for family historians to find more than one mention of their ancestor’s love story. Let’s take a look at some ways your ancestor’s engagement, wedding, or anniversary might be listed in the newspaper.

Marriage Licenses and Engagements

Newspapers are great places to find lists of names. One list of names you might find is about those couples who have applied for a marriage license. This 1849 newspaper example includes seven couples. Six of the seven women are listed as Miss. The one woman who lacks a “Miss” at the front of her name might indicate that she was previously married.

Notices about marriage licenses, Greene County Torch-Light newspaper article 16 August 1849
Greene County Torch-Light (Xenia, Ohio), 16 August 1849, page 3

Remember that the issuance of a marriage license is not a guarantee that a couple married. Make sure to complete your research by seeking out a marriage certificate or other proof that the marriage license was used and returned to the proper government authorities. Also, consider that the couple may not have lived in the area where they applied for the marriage license.

Engagement announcements tend to provide more information than a list of marriage licenses. Consider the following engagement announcement list from 1920 that includes the bride and groom’s parents’ names and their home addresses. While the parents’ names don’t list the mother’s first name, it’s at least enough to get you started in your research.

Engagement notices, Plain Dealer newspaper articles 4 January 1920
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 4 January 1920, page 21

More recent engagement notices might also provide a photograph of the bride, as in this 1950 newspaper example.

Engagement notices, Advocate newspaper article 1 January 1950
Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 1 January 1950, page 28

The Wedding

My favorite, next to milestone wedding anniversary articles (see below), are articles about weddings. They typically contain genealogically-relevant information, as well as interesting details about the wedding itself and the names of those involved, family and friends, as in this 1920 newspaper article. While I love the description of the bride (“…in a stunning gown of silver lace and net, and her tulle veil was caught into a lace frill at the back of her hair”), I’m equally happy with the description of the couples’ education and occupation (“Mr. Cadman has just returned from two years’ service overseas where he was identified with both the French and American ambulance service”), as well as the names of those in attendance (Little Miss Betty Cadman, a niece of the groom, was flower girl and wore a fluffy white tulle dress”).

Mills-Cadman wedding notice, Riverside Independent Enterprise newspaper article 1 January 1920
Riverside Independent Enterprise (Riverside, California), 1 January 1920, page 4

These 1880 wedding announcements provide the names of the couples, their attendants, and the officiating ministers, as well as the concluding sentence: “They at once enter on the duties of housekeeping in their neatly fitted home.”

Wedding notices, Cincinnati Daily Star newspaper article 1 January 1880
Cincinnati Daily Star (Cincinnati, Ohio), 1 January 1880, page 6

Milestone Anniversaries

How long was your ancestral couple married? Have any of your ancestors been married for 25, 50, or more years? I have to admit that newspaper articles documenting a milestone wedding anniversary are some of my favorites. That achievement is one that is often lauded in the newspaper, and those articles provide rich genealogical information including date of marriage, family names, and more.

This 1858 example commemorating an 1808 marriage includes the groom’s occupation, bride’s father’s previous occupation, and some details about the 50th anniversary party. Unfortunately, what is missing is the groom’s wife’s name. The article implies that a 50th wedding anniversary was quite common with its statement: “Among those very happy and not rare occasions…”

Humphrey wedding anniversay notice, Sun newspaper article 4 June 1858
Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), 4 June 1858, page 4

This 1900 example of an African American couple’s 50th wedding celebration doesn’t provide the wife’s name – but it does reveal their previous residence: “came to Kalamazoo from the south in 1853 and have since resided in this city.” It’s a good example of how valuable these types of articles can be.

Clay wedding anniversary notice, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 21 January 1900
Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 21 January 1900, page 2

I can’t resist sharing one more 1900 example. In some cases, you will find photos of the anniversary couple accompanying the newspaper article about their anniversary celebration. I love this example that documents the couple via an illustration. One of my favorite lines in this newspaper article has to do with their immigration to the United States: “the aged couple were lovers in childhood in Germany and came to Cincinnati direct in 1847, taking up their residence in the West End.”

Moormann wedding anniversary notice, Cincinnati Post newspaper article 1 January 1900
Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, Ohio), 1 January 1900, page 7

Find Your Ancestor’s Stories

Now it’s your turn! What articles have you found in the newspaper about your ancestral couples? Any mentions of an engagement, wedding, or a milestone anniversary? Do you have a wedding photograph or a photograph found in the newspaper? I would love to hear your family history stories in the comments section below.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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