Thanks to our guest blogger, Lisa Alzo, for this article.
Oh, if it be to choose and call thee mine, love, thou art every day my Valentine! ~Thomas Hood
It’s February and romance is in the air! This is the month to celebrate love. With Valentine’s Day, many sweethearts exchange cards and gifts, some couples get engaged or married, and sales of flowers and chocolates skyrocket. February is also the perfect month to explore the stories of love and marriage in your family history. Here are five tips.
1. How They Met. Do you know how your parents met? Your grandparents? I always thought my paternal grandparents, John Alzo, and Elizabeth Fenscak, met at the boarding house managed by my grandmother’s sister. But when I traveled to Slovakia in 2010, I learned that my grandparents knew each other before they immigrated to America (they lived in neighboring villages and interacted at community events). My grandparents were married in 1915 in Duquesne, Pennsylvania.
2. Scan marriage photographs. There’s nothing more fascinating than seeing your ancestors’ wedding photographs, and scanning them is an excellent way to preserve and share them. My grandparents’ wedding photograph is one of my most treasured possessions because my grandfather died before I was born, and my grandmother died when I was two, so I don’t remember her. My cousin sent me a copy of the photograph, and I scanned it using my Flip-Pal mobile scanner. (Wedding photograph of John Alzo and Elizabeth Fenscak. January 1915, Duquesne, PA.)
3. Going to the Chapel. I inherited some family documents that included a copy of my grandparents’ marriage license and was able to use the certificate number to order a copy of the original application for the license. Check to see what marriage records are online at FamilySearch, or use Joe Beine’s Online Birth & Marriage Records Indexes for the USA. Also, don’t just stop your search there, but also check courts for bonds and affidavits, church books and banns (announcements of an intended marriage usually made in church on three successive Sundays). Finally, don’t forget to search for engagement announcements in newspapers. Use the Online Historical Newspapers Website, and watch the free Legacy Webinar “Marriages and Anniversaries: Mining Newspapers.”
4. Not So “Happily Ever After.” Not all marriages lasted. Prior to the 20th century, divorces were often difficult and expensive to obtain, especially for women. But contrary to assumptions, they did happen. To obtain a copy of a divorce decree in the U.S., contact the vital statistics office in the state where the event occurred. Remember to look for notices in newspapers, and documentation in court records.
5. Learn marriage rituals and customs. Every culture and ethnic group has its own rituals regarding courtship and marriage. For example, if your ancestors had an arranged marriage, investigate the “why” behind it. In addition, learn a little about wedding customs. Although my grandparents married in America, they observed many of the Slovak wedding traditions from their ancestral villages, and I especially enjoyed learning about how my grandmother’s veil and dress represented the folk dress found in her village of Posa.
Finally, for more tips, register for upcoming Legacy Webinars, including my “Ten Hidden Resources Every Genealogist Should Know” and “Get What You Came For: New Search Options Let You Target Obituaries, Photos, Passenger Lists, Births, Marriages, and More,” You can also purchase Geoff Rasmussen’s “Watch Geoff Live: Adding a Marriage Record” webinar on CD.
Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series.