There’s a story behind that marriage date. But unless the tale has been passed down through family lore or you’re the proud owner of a collection of torrid love letters, you’re never going to get it, right?
Don’t give up so easily. Turns out that story of true love could be hiding in a yearbook or a census record. Or it may be waiting in a document or photo that you’ve already found, viewed, and saved … just waiting for you to take a second look.
Here are some places where we found love stories, what we discovered, and which resources might unlock the tales of romance you’re looking for, too.
The Girl Next Door
Anne Mitchell, Sr. Product Manager, Library and Institutional Accounts
Tip: Explore the pages before and after your ancestor in the census to see if you find the prospective bride or groom living nearby.
Charlton Wallace married Martha Jane Cash in Rockbridge County, Virginia, in 1842. According to her death record, Martha was the daughter of Ready Cash and Mary Hartigan of Rockbridge County. Unfortunately vital records weren’t kept at the time of Charlton’s birth or death, so I had to do a little digging to find his parents. I knew from his tombstone that Charlton was born in Rockbridge County in 1823 and died there in 1903, so Rockbridge County seemed a good place to start.
Identifying the family would be tricky since the 1840 census listed only heads of households by name, with children simply tallied by number and age range. Assuming Charlton was living with his parents in 1840—and that they lived in Rockbridge County, where he was born, married, and died—I narrowed the Wallace households that had a boy in the correct age range down to three.
Browsing the neighbors of one of the candidates gave me a very big clue as to the likely identity of Charlton’s probable parents, or at least the folks he was living with. As I paged back to the previous census page, living next door to William Wallace I found the household of Ready Cash. Since then I’ve found further evidence that makes it pretty clear that Charlton married the girl next door.
Shipmates for Life?
Juliana Smith, Sr. Marketing and Communications Associate
Tip: Browse through the passenger lists of immigrant ancestors to see if a future couple was traveling together or met on board.
My great-great-grandmother Margaret Dooner was a first-generation American born in Brooklyn, New York, in January 1841. Her parents were Irish immigrants, and her baptism record from St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church lists her parents as John Dooner and Eliza Moran. Since Dooner is a relatively unusual name by Irish standards, I thought I would try to locate John’s arrival in the U.S. in U.S. passenger lists. Using the 1841 birth date of the couple’s eldest child, Margaret, as a starting point, I limited my search to the years prior to that and found a John Dooner who is just about the right age coming to New York on July 10, 1839. I glanced at the others on the page and found a number of twenty-somethings, most of whom appear to be traveling without family, although there were a few young families sprinkled in.
Since the manifest was only two pages long, I scanned the other names on the list, and although there were no other Dooners, I ran across an Eliza Moran on the following page. Because Moran is a common surname, I will have to gather more evidence to prove this is John’s Eliza. It’s also possible that they were coming from the same area of Ireland and knew each other before immigrating. But in either case it’s a fun find and will be interesting to investigate just where love may have bloomed.
He Joined the What?
Loretto “Lou” Szucs, Vice President, Community Relations
When my daughter and I uncovered my great-grandmother Jane Howley’s file for a Civil War pension based on her husband, Thomas’s, service in the Union Navy, we hit the jackpot. The file, found in the Navy Widows’ Certificates collection on Fold3.com, provided great genealogical details, as well as a number of depositions from family and friends.
A deposition by friend Margaret Freil, who knew Jane and Thomas before they were married, even revealed how they met:
I first became acquainted with Thomas Howley sometime about 1855 or 1856. He came to our house on Water St. near Fulton Ferry, Brooklyn, N.Y. about that time and boarded with my parents. He was called a greenhorn then and I understand that he had just came here from England. My father introduced Thomas Howley to this claimant Jane Howley, whom I knew as long as I can remember.
I even learned a little bit about the early years of their marriage. There are 123 pages in the file, largely because Thomas enlisted using his mother’s maiden name of Moore, which left Jane with some explaining to do. She says,
I objected to him going in the service because I was then with child and I did not think it was right for him to go. I did not know he had enlisted until after he went in the recovery ship and then I was told by Lou Barnett, who enlisted him, and brought his civilian clothes back to me. Yes sir, this man Barnett enlisted him, and I understand he got half of the bounty money.
Jane went to see Thomas a couple days later.
I asked him why he enlisted under the name of Moore and he said he did not want me to know it till he had enlisted and he then handed me $400 half of the bounty money he had received.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that meeting. Jane goes on in a later deposition to tell us that following his enlistment, “I felt very sore over it because I had one small child and was with child at the time.”
This is just a small sample of the details that we found in that file. The depositions are full of insights into the lives of all involved, and the clues we found will no doubt lead to more information.
Check for pension indexes and images of some files online at Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. If you find the record in an index, you can request the record from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Newspapers. Check newspapers for engagement, marriage, and anniversary announcements that could include the story of how the happy couple met. Social pages may list the names of people at events and give you insights into their social circles.
You may even find articles with incredible details about an ancestor’s love story. The following article appeared in the New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) of 9 December 1910.
Maps. Find your ancestors street addresses in city directories, censuses beginning in 1880, and other records and plot locations on a map. Contemporary maps can give you a general sense of a location, although bear in mind that streets may have been renamed or renumbered. Historical maps, like those found in the following collections, can be even more useful:
- U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860–1918
- Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507–2000
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About Juliana Szucs
Juliana Szucs has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.