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Look for Missing Marriages

Looking at historical records, it is not always easy to identify an ancestor who has been married more than once. Yet, it is one of the most common reasons for misconstrued family trees. Missing a marriage can often mean missing an entire branch of your family. It can also result in assigning descendants to the wrong parent. Are there any clues that can help you identify missing marriages?

Historically, the most common reason for a person to remarry would be the death of a spouse. One hundred years ago, people simply did not live as long as they do today (see How Many People Live to 100). The most common reasons for an early death were accident, war, disease and childbirth. The unexpected death of a spouse was further compounded by the lack of a social safety net. This often resulted in the surviving spouse having to remarry quickly for economic and social reasons. When life expectancy was just 35, it was not uncommon for someone to be remarried within a couple of months.

There are several possible sources of information that can serve as evidence of a marriage:

• A marriage license issued by a government.

• A civil marriage certificate.

• A marriage registration from a church.

• A parish record of a marriage.

• A marriage licence application.

• A marriage contract (similar to today’s prenuptial agreement).

• A marriage bann (announcement of an intention to get married, typically issued in a church).

• A marriage bond (a statement testifying that there is no legal impediment to a marriage).

• A newspaper announcement of an upcoming marriage.

• A newspaper article on a wedding.

• A wedding invitation.

• A wedding program.

• A wedding guest book or album.

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