Posted by Ancestry Team on February 14, 2017 in News
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

With modern technology like dating apps, quick cross-country flights, FaceTime and more, it’s easy for us to find our soulmate across the country, or even across the world.  For Valentine’s Day, the team at Ancestry did a little digging into the history of international –or even just inter-county– couples to discover that over time, couples’ birth locations are becoming farther apart.

Ancestry combed through the family trees and data (a sample of almost 22 million couples over 770,000 sampled public family trees) and uncovered some fascinating stats about couples’ birthplaces and when distances between those birthplaces began to increase within a couple. Most of our analyses shed light on the distances between couples in the family trees of individuals living in the U.S. today.

In the early 1600s we see a spike where up to 25% of pairs are the coupling between a U.S. and non-US individual –  born 3,000 miles apart. Since the 1950s, the U.S. has seen a slight increase to ~10% of couples as between a U.S. and non-US individual. Across all couples, in 1850 the average couple was born ~500 m apart whereas in the present day, couples born in the 1980’s were born an average of ~1500 m apart.


Why do we see a rise and fall in the distance between couples’ birth locations? 


If you’ve got to be on time for work the next morning, you typically aren’t going to court someone who lives more than half a day’s journey away. And that journey was fairly short if you had to make it on foot or, if you were lucky, horseback.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

In 1800 most Americans still lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic coast. Roads were bad or nonexistent. Ethnic enclaves were common in both rural and urban areas. In short, people tended to stick close to home. We see a steady rise in marriage distance as travel becomes easier in the U.S. The Erie Canal opened in 1825, while the National Road inched its way toward Illinois. Passenger rail began catching on in the 1830s and steamships kept improving times for river trips and ocean travel throughout the 1800s.  Even a bicycle—and a road to ride it on—could broaden your pool of potential partners.


Since the Industrial Revolution, America has watched its population shift from rural to urban. Parts of the Northeast had majority urban populations by the middle of the 19th century, and the country as a whole tipped the scale toward more urban than rural dwellers in the 1920s. While urbanites still married people that lived nearby or they met through work, factories and offices would draw workers from disparate populations and places. The draw of America’s industrial cities could help explain the steady rise in distance throughout the 1800s. 


We see distances dip around the American Revolution and rise again in the mid-1800s. U.S. Immigration records show a decline during the 7 Years War, the Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars in the late 1700s and early 1800s, then lifted again as German and Irish immigration boomed leading up to midcentury. One possibility for this change could be immigration; people coming—or not coming—to the U.S. 

Do you know the story behind how your ancestors met and married? Search millions of records in our U.S. marriage records collection to discover the love story in your family tree.


  1. Patty

    Your article will send me to a map to see if the family fits your pattern. Could open some windows to the past. Thank you.

  2. Joan

    I followed that logic as it fit my US families. In researching my German ancestors I frequently found the couples were from different towns. Almost all the men were skilled laborers that required them to fulfill time as a journeyman. As I learned more about that process I found they actually had to leave their hometown and while there, met and married their spouse.

  3. Duane Koch

    My great-grandfather came to this country from Germany in 1849, worked in a flour mill for a year; made just enough money to go back to Germany and bring his wife and three children back with him. He was a farmer in Germany and the family were farmers for 3 more generations. Nothing like that today!

  4. wow really nice. It will be helpful for the people those who are ready to crack the interview and please also for remind what they have learned throughout concept.

  5. Elizabeth

    My ancestors were all born within a few miles of each other, however my husband and I were born 6,000 miles apart.

  6. Sarah

    One GGfather was born in Ireland, his wife in Alaska. Another GGfather was born in France, his wife in California. A third GGfather was born in Maine, his wife in California. All these were married in the 19th century.
    My son and daughter were born in California. Their spouses were born in Massachusetts and Wisconsin. I was born in California and my husband was born in Iowa.

  7. Patrick

    This is a very interesting article. Thank you. I am particularly intrigued by the changes in spousal distances, and the impact of, for example, the bicycle.

    Is the y-axis on the graph really miles rather than metres? Would it be possible to add a boxplot to your article to show the distribution of the distances in each decade?

    I think that there is also an interesting technical story to tell here. Many old birth certificates refer to addresses that no longer exist. How did you select the sample and clean the addresses to find the distances?

Comments are closed.