Who needs online dating? When Davy Crockett decided he needed a new wife and mother for his children after his spouse Mary Finley died, he didn’t go far to find one.
According to Crockett, “There lived in the neighbourhood, a widow lady whose husband had been killed in the war. She had two children, a son and daughter, and both quite small, like my own. I began to think, that as we were both in the same situation, it might be that we could do something for each other.” The couple “soon bargained, and got married, and then went ahead.”
Whether their marriage was a product of love, logic, or simple logistics, it was certainly a practical match for two single parents around tiny Beans Creek, Tennessee, in 1815.
Turns out, Crockett was on to something. For many of our ancestors (and for plenty of folks still) when it came to seeking a spouse, geography was destiny.
Studies of 19th- and early-20th-century English parish records and Act Books show that in some regions up to 80 percent of working-class brides and grooms were originally separated by fewer than four miles.
Distances increased a little over time, thanks in part to improvements in transportation: a road, a bicycle, or a train all increase the ground you can cover for an evening tryst and still make it back for work in the morning. But geographer P. J. Perry still found that partners tended to originate from places less than 11 miles apart—even into the 1930s.
Proximity could be even more pronounced in urban areas. In fact, if your grandfather got married in Philadelphia in 1931, there’s a better than 1-in-3 chance his intended lived within five blocks of home. The odds were similar for a study in Columbus, Ohio, in 1950.
When the editors of Ancestry magazine pulled out the atlas and a ruler to determine the lengths some of their own ancestors were willing to go for love, they came up with 8.5, 6.1, 10.5, and 10.7 miles—plus another pair figured as “7 pages away on the census in the same parish” of about 500 residents.
Which just goes to show that looking for love may not require looking very far.