Gretna Green Weddings

Genealogical research is a fun adventure. Decades into the hobby, I still frequently find myself discovering new terms and learning new things. Gretna Green is the term I learned recently.

Gretna Green is a town in Scotland that was famous for being a runaway wedding destination. The town gained its reputation when English marriage laws prohibited marriage under the age of 21. Younger English couples crossed the Scottish border and the first town they arrived at was Gretna Green, Scotland.

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Historic image of Gretna Green Scotland By This image is available from the National Library of Scotland under the sequence number or Shelfmark ID Blaikie.SNPG. You can see this image in its original context, along with the rest of the Library’s digital collections, in the NLS Digital Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33984166

The term Gretna Green came to be associated with any locale that drew residents from nearby areas to skirt more restrictive marriage laws where the couple lived. Las Vegas, Nevada is a modern day Gretna Green. Various places served as Gretna Green locations at different periods. Angola, Indiana was a popular Gretna Green destination for residents of Michigan.

The first time I encountered a Gretna Green marriage was when I located the marriage license of my Great Grandmother and her second husband. I searched for that record for years before I finally discovered it. When I looked at the information provided it was no shock I had such trouble. My Great Grandmother provided details that were less than honest and they married far from the city they lived their lives together in. Overall, I found it rather easily considering the details she provided.

 

Normally I would discard the incorrect facts as a case of poor record keeping. In this instance, I am certain the details recorded were as my Great Grandmother provided them. The details she provided, and the reality of the situation as ferreted out by actual supporting documents and records, tell the rest of the story. I have little doubt my Great Grandparents married in Angola, Indiana to avoid too many unwanted questions about their…primarily her…past. Indiana law required them to both be over the age of 18 and unmarried. No documentation was required to prove the facts as presented were accurate. Good thing, she could not have provided documents to prove the facts she provides unless she made them!

Couples had various reasons for Gretna Green weddings. Some like my Great Grandmother had a history that she was trying to escape. Others may have been just looking for the excitement of eloping, or just avoiding family involvement in the ceremony. Whatever their reason Gretna Green weddings have been a genealogy roadblock challenge to overcome since the dawn of time.

Matriarch Monday

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Lucy Brown standing

 

Monday is all about honoring female ancestors who showed strength and perseverance in the face of adversity.  Today’s Matriarch is my maternal Great Grandmother Lucy Bell Brown. 

Early Years

Lucy was born on Feb 6, 1897 in Greenbrier County, West Virginia to James C. Brown and Laura Hanshew.  She was the 3rd of 4 children.  When Lucy was young her parents divorced.  Records are scarce on Lucy’s childhood but family stories indicate she was “adopted” out to a couple to be raised after her parents separated.

 

 

Lucy found love with a man named Archie Jamison.  The couple married in 1914 in Nicholas County, West Virginia.  Four children, Steward, Orelo, Archie, and Juanita, were born to the couple between 1915 and 1921. The 1920 census shows the family living in Richwood, Nicholas County, West Virginia and Archie is reported as being a cook in a restaurant.

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Richwood, WV fire 1921

During August of 1921 the town of Richwood experienced a massive fire which destroyed blocks of the town.  According to accounts of the event it appears the fire stopped blocks from where the young family of six lived during the period.

September 1, 1923 tragedy struck when Archie Sr. was killed after being hit by a train.  Lucy was left a young widow with 4 young children.

 

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Lucy with Steward, Orelo, Archie Jr, and Juanita Jamison

A Second Chance at Love

In 1926 Lucy wed for the second time to Dallas Finley Shuck in Nicholas County, West Virginia.  Over the next decade the couple would have 6 children, Dallas, Mary, Elden, Wilson, Laura, and Jeannetta, bringing their family to size to 12.  Her husband, known as Finley, supported the family working in the coal mines.

Duty Calls Her Sons to War

 

Adversity was not behind her as Lucy settled into her life as a coal miner’s wife.  Life was a daily struggle in the poverty stricken mining communities.  Even opportunity was a double edged sword when three of her sons enlisted in the military and all three were sent to the Korean War at the same time.

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Page from the local paper showing 3 Shuck brothers have a reunion in Korea

Lost in the Woods

At some point Lucy began to develop dementia.  I can only wonder if its onset helped lead to one occasion where Lucy became the star of the local news.  She was 78 years old when while out squirrel hunting with her husband she became lost in the woods in October of 1975.  Rescue parties were formed, and searchers looked for her all night long before she was found the next morning.  Apparently, between her faithful hounds and trusty shotgun she was unfazed by her ordeal and planned to continue hunting.  Lucy yet again faced adversity and somehow managed to handle a situation that would have devastated a lesser person.

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newspaper clippings courtesy of a granddaughter of Lucy

Lucy and Finley celebrated over 55 years of marriage before Finley passed.  They had buried 3 children by his death in 1982.  By the time he passed she was suffering pretty heavily with dementia.

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Lucy and Finley

1984 saw the death of another of Lucy’s children when Steward died.

I have hazy personal memories of when Uncle Steward died.  As was still the custom in that area at the time, they had the funeral at home.  A downstairs room was used to set up the body and afterwards it would be buried in the family cemetery across the road.

I don’t know if Lucy was ever truly aware of the fact that it was her son they had set up in the parlor.  I remember conversations of her being upset telling people to get the body out of the parlor before Finley got home from work.  Finley was two years dead and that body was her son.  Perhaps dementia was fates way of sparing her even more grief in life.

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Lucy Brown Jamison Shuck

Final Years

Lucy lived out the final years of her life in the house of her daughter, Mary, in the same little area known as Hell’s Half Acre where she had lived a majority of her life.  She died in 1989.  Her funeral was held in the White Oak Methodist Church on the same road she had lived and she is buried in the P.A. Shuck Cemetery next to Finley.

 

 

Wednesday is for Weddings

Weddings are a gift to the genealogist

Marriage records are invaluable when performing pre-1850 genealogical research on female ancestors.  Prior to 1850 only heads of households were listed on the census.  Locating that elusive 200-year-old marriage record could make all the difference in the quest for great-great grandmother’s name.

Here is a favorite wedding day photo of mine.  The photo is from May 28, 1949 when my paternal grandparents, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr and Loree Jane Ashley, were married in Flint, Michigan.  Pictured with the new couple are both sets of parents.

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Left to Right: Moman Harold Fulkerson, Lilly Mae Weatherspoon, Jay Dee Fulkerson Sr, Loree Jane Ashley, Sarah Eckler, Myron Ashley

Prior to this photo I had never seen a photo of my grandmother’s parents.  In fact, my grandmother’s father, Myron Ashley, pictured on the right with a cigarette in his hand died the year after this photo was taken.  His wife, Sarah Eckler, and my grandfather, Jay Dee Fulkerson Jr, both died before I was born.

During early periods in history, marriage was one of the few instances in a woman’s life when her full birth name might be recorded on documents.  In lucky cases a bride’s parents may also be listed in the marriage record.  Frequently, in the case of someone who was married more than once it can be a puzzle trying to locate each different surname, and surname changes are the cause of more than a few brick walls.  Tracking down every marriage, and searching out not only maiden names but other possible surnames is a vital part of tracking maternal lines.

Frequently locating those marriage records can be a tricky endeavor because couples would travel to another area to get married.  Other vital records searches are simplified by the fact they were typically recorded in the county or state where the person lived.  Marriage records can be located in places the couple never resided.

My grandparents were from West Virginia and Michigan; they married in Angola, Indiana.  Yet another set of grandparents further back in my line, both born and buried in Michigan, they married in Canada.

Tips while researching marriage records

  • Always begin with searching for marriage records using the groom first; his surname was more likely to stay the same and if her surname is unexpected you know to look for other possible marriages.
  • Don’t limit the geographic region of your search, people have been eloping forever.
  • Marriage records can provide the bride’s maiden name….but not always… remember women changed their surnames, sometimes more often than we realize.
  • Don’t disregard a record merely because both spouses don’t match.  Dig deeper to see if it is truly different people or if there is more to the story.
Here is the marriage record of Lucy Bell Brown and Dallas Finley Shuck.

 

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There are two things that could make this record tricky to locate.

  • First, Dallas Finley who is listed only as Dallas F Shuck commonly went by the name Finley during life.  You had to realize that his legal name was Dallas to locate this record.
  • Second, Lucy was a widow when she married Finley so her last name is recorded as Jamison instead of her maiden name of Brown.

 

Till Death Do Us Part…. Or Not

On the flip side of the wedding coin another valuable source of information can be divorce records.  While it’s easy to think of divorce as a modern-day habit, it happened more often than we realize in history.  Ancestry.com has a wealth of historical divorce records on their site.  Tracking down divorce records can make all the difference between accusing great grandpa of being a bigamist or realizing he might have had a few personality flaws that made him hard to live with.

My great-great-great grandfather, Leming Eckler, kept the marriage and divorce clerks of Michigan busy late in his life.  I have found several marriage and divorce records for him dating from 1858 to 1907.  As a male ancestor his surname never changed making following his trail possible.  If he had been a female ancestor it would have been nearly impossible to follow the trail of rapidly changing names.

Divorce records also help to do something few other records do; they paint a more human picture of the person being researched.  Most historical records show basic vital stats while divorce records might show character flaws such as abandonment, cruelty, or failure to support.  They may not reveal some of the more flattering details of a person but it’s another way to see a new perspective on an ancestor’s personality.

From start to end weddings leave a trail to be followed

Marriage and divorce records can hold bits of information that can be vital to putting together the lineage puzzle.  Locating marriage and divorce records can be challenging but the reward for success makes it  worth the time investment.

 

Source Information

Ancestry.com. Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867–1952. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics.

Ancestry.com. Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Michigan. Divorce records. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing, Michigan

“West Virginia Marriages, 1780-1970,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FTHY-MZQ : 4 December 2014), Dallas F Shuck and Lucy Belle Jamison, 1926; citing Nicholas, West Virginia, United States, , county clerks, West Virginia; FHL microfilm 495,646

http://www.wvculture.org/vrr/va_view2.aspx?FilmNumber=495646&ImageNumber=474