16 September 2010

A Word About Divorce Records

By Pamela Pattison Lash

Our WCGS website, found in the links section of this blog, contains my divorce primer. There is a data base where all divorces discovered from 1830's-1886 are listed. The thought occurred to me as I'm updating my findings is to post the following for a guest who may not be familiar with the value of divorce records.

As you, the reader, see the laundry list of possible findings in the divorce records, you will hopefully realize the value these records hold. When I began delving into these records, I quickly discovered that they were hidden "gold mines" of data for family research. Most people would never think to consult such records because first of all they never conceived the notion that an ancestor had divorced or had experienced the divorce process. Secondly, if they wondered whether there was a divorce, they did not know where to look or did not want to find anything distressing. If the latter is the reason you, the reader, have never looked at divorce records, then do not do it. The material within may indeed be unsettling. If, however, you share my view that these people were flesh and blood with human frailties and that one can never know all of the circumstances that surround the situation of divorce, then "go for it."

The method I used to compile this publication consisted of a two-pronged attack. First I paged through the first 14 journals of the Williams County Civil and Criminal Court records (1824 - June 1886), from which I created a list of divorces that were mentioned therein. This gave me surnames and dates, such as Phebe Daggett v. Ethan Daggett, Journal 7, November 1869 Term, p 369, 380-381. By the way, this case was the first one I waded through because I was writing a genealogical detailing of the couple for the Williams County Genealogical Society's newsletter, Ohio's Last Frontier, entitled "A Native Daughter Abused: A Bill of Divorce in Williams County, OH (1869)". The reasons for my interest in this case are contained within that two-part article, which I have included in this publication along with an update on Ethan Daggett.

Next, I used the indices to the microfilm rolls of the Williams County Civil and Criminal Court records, which are located at both the Williams County Records Center and the Williams County Public Library, Bryan, Ohio. The index directed me to Roll 21, case numbers 39 and 57, which yielded a great deal of information about the couple and their subsequent divorce. I further learned that Ethan Daggett's attorneys later sued Ethan for failure to pay representation fees.

The indices for the early rolls are listed by surname only. Some divorces were mentioned in the journals but no case file was included in the microfilm rolls or vice versa. Some divorces were mentioned in old county newspapers such as the Bryan Democrat, 21 May 1863, without being discovered in either the journals or the rolls.

I also want to alert you as to what may not be in the divorce records. Each divorce was as different as each couple who experienced this process. Some cases were full of detail and some only contained the bare necessities of the filing process. Also, not all people who sought a divorce received one. In fact, some of the over 360 divorces listed herein were dismissed or continued and then later dismissed because the court felt there was not enough evidence or one or both of the parties requested a dismissal. Some of the dismissed cases were refiled as many as three times before the court acted upon them.

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