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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course US: Newspaper Records by Rhonda McClure. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Vital Statistics In Newspapers
There are a number of different ways that we may find a marriage or union announced in the newspaper. And it is important to remember that a license or engagement does not mean that a marriage took place.
In addition to the actual marriage announcement, the other two most common listings of marriages are the listing of the marriage licenses applied for, usually published by the court or for the county, and the engagement announcements.
Engagement notices are not as popular as the marriage announcements, at least not until the 1900s. And from personal experience in my own family, having found three announcements of engagement for one woman—and an entry in a diary that her mother wasn’t going to put any more announcements because the woman broke off each engagement—an announcement of an upcoming marriage does not ensure that a wedding takes place.
Bickers - Mattingly Marriage
The Atlanta Constitution, September 2, 1910, Atlanta, Georgia.
Even when the engagement or the announcement of the upcoming marital vows seems close, such as is seen here with the upcoming marriage of Miss Frances Bickers and Mr. B.S. Mattingly, Jr., which was announced in the paper on September 2, 1910 and was due to take place on September 10, 1910, it is still possible that they did not get married. However, what this does offer is a date to check. Researching the newspapers from September 10th to the 15th to see if further information is shared would be in order. And given that this was a society wedding, it is likely that additional information might have been shared once the wedding took place.
Many times, as we see with this next engagement, no actual date of the nuptials is included, though again because this was a society engagement, there are lots of names and some information about the party.
One of the most artistic of last evening’s dinner parties was given by Mrs. Butler of 433 Fifth Avenue to announce the engagement of Miss Mary Butler Green and Elisha M. Fulton. The guests included Mrs. Henry A. Alexander, Mrs. Henry Meeker, Miss Green, Miss Conkling, Miss Townsend, Miss De Bary, Miss Kohlsaat, Miss Sanders, Mrs. Sanders, Mrs. Butler, Dr. Sanders, Mr. Fulton, Mr. Meeker, Henry Alexander, Maitland Alexander, Mr. McCoy, Mr. Marquand, Mr. Magoun, Frank Plummer, Francis Landon, Mr. Smalley, and Mr. Rutherford. The basis of the decorations on the table was green. The table, which was oval, was banked in the centre with different varieties of green cypropedium orchids, maidenhair ferns, and mignonette. Toward each plate the decorations joined in the points of a star. The chandelier over the table was hung with asparagus, orchids, and mignonette. For the gentlemen there were boutonnieres of mignonette, tied with green ribbon. The dinner cards were imported expressly from China, where they were painted by hand. The evening included dancing, to the music of Lander.
Announcements such as this were as much about who was there as about the engagement itself. In society it was important to be seen at all the right parties, and get your name in the society pages as often as possible, at least as long as it was mentioned favorably.
There are some less flamboyant announcements of engagements, that didn’t include the color of the decorations, but instead supply you, the genealogist, with some very useful information.
Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Kunhardt of New-Brighton, S.I., announce the engagement of their daughter, Lilla, widow of F. S. Browning, to the Rev. Dr. E. Walpole Warren, rector of Holy Trinity Church, Forty-second Street and Madison Avenue.
This engagement in the New York Times is a bounty of information that may lead the researcher to finding when Lilla’s first marriage took place, and perhaps searching for additional entries in the newspaper for her parents.
By far the best engagement announcements a genealogist wants to find are those that not only mention names of parents, but also include the date of the upcoming nuptials. While the marriage may not take place, at least such an announcement gives you a new date to search, and as we see below, it is quite some time after the engagement announcement. While it would be nice to have an exact date of the wedding, having at least a month when the event is scheduled is better than nothing, allowing you to skip those intervening months between the engagement announcement and the approximate time of the wedding.
Mr. and Mrs. J.K. Loyacano announce the engagement of their daughter, Phyl, to Mr. W.L. Martin. The wedding will take place in June.
Marriage License Notices
The other marriage type announcement that does not guarantee the date of the marriage is the list of marriage licenses issued by the county court clerk for a given period, usually the past week.
Courier-Journal, January 1, 1892, Louisville, Kentucky.
While you may feel that you can dismiss these entries as useless, they can serve a purpose when the existing marriage records have not been indexed. What these license lists supply is a starting point with your search of the actual marriage records. In many instances, the marriage did take place shortly after the license was issued, thus narrowing the number of pages you must search considerably.
The most sought marriage information in the newspaper is that of the marriage announcement. Such announcements at the least tell you who the bride and groom were and when they were married. Simple marriage notices, are often found just before or just after the death notices. They are usually a sentence or two at the most, and are intended to lead the researcher to additional resources. However, in the case of a county that has had a courthouse fire or is missing records, this newspaper announcement may be all the proof you will have.
Gettysburg Compiler, March 21, 1821, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
This marriage notice found in the Gettysburg Compiler is the standard notice, and in fact gives a little more information in that the father of the bride is mentioned. The mentioning of the minister who married them is an advantage because you might be able to further investigate the minister and determine the faith in which the marriage took place. This could help you in finding additional family records such as baptisms or burials, even though they may not be published in subsequent newspapers.
Marriage notices are often found listed with the death and funeral notices. These notices are usually simple, giving just the basic of information of the names of the bride and groom and perhaps the minister who officiated.
However, marriage announcements often appear in many other places in the newspaper. If the family in question was wealthy or well-known in the community, it is possible that the wedding was mentioned in the society column.
An interesting wedding of Thursday afternoon, September 1, was that of Miss Claudia Belle Kelpin and Mr. Fred W. Block, which took place at the Central Presbyterian church, Rev. Dunbar H. Ogden, the pastor, officiating.
While the Kelpin-Block marriage announcement was found in the Society section of the paper, it told little more than that of a standard marriage notice, adding only the church and where the couple was honeymooning.
Usually when a marriage is announced in the society pages, you will find a lot more detail; including details about what some of the bridal party were wearing or additional descriptions that give you insight into character or physical appearance of an ancestor.
| A beautiful wedding yesterday was that of Miss Juanita Tyler and Mr. Robert Irving Gresham, the occasion centering the interest of a large acquaintance.|
The ceremony took place at 4 o’clock in the afternoon at All Saints’ Episcopal church, Mr. W.W. Memminger officiating.
Mrs. John C. Jacobs, of Chicago, the bride’s sister, was matron of honor; Mr. Lonnie Gresham, the groom’s brother, was best man, and the ushers were Mr. Thomas Latham, Mr. Dugas McClesky, Mr. Fred Mashburn, Mr. William Millen, Mr. John Trippe, Mr. Edmund Russell.
The bride is a winsome young woman, whose loveliness was at its height in her becoming gown and hat of blue. The cloth suit with its cutaway coat was a smart model in strictly tailored style, and the close-fitting high turban of velvet was trimmed with white aigrettes held by a blue cabochon. The bridal bouquet was of valley lilies and orchids.
The matron of honor wore a blue silk voile gown, with an invisible check of white. It was made over pearl gray satin, and a green satin girdle gave tone to the toilet, which was completed by a black picture hat. Her bouquet was of pink roses and valley lilies. The bride’s mother, Mrs. John E. Tyler, wore a black silk gown with a black flower toque.
Appropriate organ music was played during the ceremony and the church had an artistic decoration of palms and ferns with tall white vases of Easter lilies and baskets of white hydrangeas.
Mr. and Mrs. Gresham left immediately for an extensive tour of the west, and returning the first of October, they will make their home for the winter at the Piedmont hotel.
While this is another society wedding, you may find that in smaller communities the editor included many details about the wedding because they only have a few each year. Often smaller community weddings include details about the receptions that follow or mention individuals of note in the town that came to the wedding.
Sometimes the wedding announcement is more a news item than a blurb because of other things that transpired at the time. Such announcements may be found anywhere in the newspaper, and are yet another reason that the newspaper should at least be skimmed. Many of them until the 1900s were eight pages or less, making it easy to look through them in a relatively short period of time.
The Atlanta Constitution, September 2, 1910, Atlanta, Georgia.
In this particular example, not only do you get information about the wedding, but you get a lot more. Not only do you find out where and when the marriage took place, but you find out a lot about groom, some of it less than flattering, but certainly offering additional research avenues if he was somehow related to your family tree.
Another major news event related to marriages is when the couple eloped. It often resulted in annulments, or other major repercussions, which may be researchable in court or other records, but if nothing else, the news of the couple is usually detailed.
| The New-Haven Palladium of the 17th inst. says:
“An elopement is just now exciting the good people of Pine Orchard, in the staid town of Branford. The parties are George Reed, a Scotchman, twenty-two years of age, and Miss Jennie Lewis, aged fifteen, daughter of Mr. Charles Lewis. The lovers had been keeping company some time, but the young man’s suit was unfavorably met by the young lady’s parents. They finally concluded to take the evening train for New-Haven on Monday being accompanied hither by a young friend named Archibald Gardner. They sought the office of Registrar Bissell, but that official declined issuing a marriage license because of the young lady’s minority. They subsequently proceeded to the wharf, and embarked on the steamer for the Metropolis, Reed making an unsuccessful effort to secure a state-room. Gardner returned up-town, passed the night at the Merchant’s Hotel, and was arrested Tuesday morning, Miss Lewis’ friends having telegraphed the facts to the Police during the night. They also telegraphed to New-York to have the runaways arrested, but nothing had been heard Tuesday night. Gardner convinced Mr. Lewis that he had no hand in the affair, and he was released.
Anniversary announcements are often quite useful to genealogists, especially when they mark those momentous milestones, such as silver (25 years) or golden (50 years) anniversaries. They are often filled with information about when the couple met, and how old they are now. It may also name descendants of the couple. At the very least, it gives you a year in which to focus your energy looking for a marriage record.
| Stratford, Oct. 27. — Mr. and Mrs. Harry Curtis, of this town, celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary last evening in the house in which Mr. Curtis was born 89 years ago. Although the old gentleman has been totally blind for over 20 years he skipped around among his guests last night in quite a lively manner. Mrs. Curtis is 80 years old, and for some time has been an invalid. The celebration was in the shape of a surprise by a few friends and relatives. Refreshments were served by three children, three grand-children, and one great-grandchild of the couple. No death has occurred in Mr. Curtis’s family since his marriage, three-score years ago. On that occasion one of the guests of the anniversary was present. The aged couple who have lived so long together received many earnest congratulations, and the party was brought to a close by the singing of “Old Hundred.” These two people are said to be the oldest couple in town.
As you can see there are many different ways in which you can find out about marriages through the use of newspapers. Some supply you with great detail, while others simply infer and event or when the event took place, requiring additional research.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at email@example.com
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.