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August 21, 2017

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Wedded bliss makes record finding a little hit and miss

Stefani Evans

Stefani Evans

My mother's family could not stay put.

For several generations the women in my mother's family (including my sisters and I) married men who were born in states other than the women's states of birth. I must go back five generations before I find the first bride and groom who were born in the same state (but even that bride's parents were born in different states).

Because of my family's unusual marriage patterns, I have been forced to cast wide nets when I seek marriage records. States do not keep marriage records; counties keep marriage records. And, unlike Clark County, most counties do not provide publicly available, online marriage record indexes. Nevada counties keep marriage certificates with the county clerk and marriage licenses with the county recorder.

In Clark County those offices are in two separate buildings about 10 minutes apart; you'll find free parking at the County Recorder's Office in the County Government Building, but you'll probably need to pay for parking at the County Clerk's Office downtown.

Note that in all states, the marriage licenses are good for the entire state, but they must be returned to the jurisdiction that issued them. For example, my husband and I married in Orange County, Calif., but our marriage license and certificate were filed in a different county, because we received our documents in the other county.

Many American families contain at least one couple who traveled to a "Gretna Green" to be married.

The original Gretna Green in Scotland contains many blacksmith's shops, home of "runaway marriages." Parliament passed Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act in 1753. The English Act required parental consent if both bride and groom were not 21 years old. However, Scotland's ages of consent remained at 14 for grooms and 12 for brides. Because of its proximity to England, the village of Greta Green, at Scotland's southern border, became the capital of English runaway marriages. The term "Gretna Green" has since come to symbolize locations that offer less restrictive age, medical, licensure or residency requirements (see Ginger Frere, "Searching 'Gretna Greens' for Marriage Records" the Newberry Library News).

If a U.S. couple married in the same county where their first child was born, or if they married in a county where the bride or groom was born, then they likely did not cross county or state lines to marry, and we expect to find their families nearby. However, if a couple married in a state other than one in which they resided, perhaps they crossed state lines to marry in a "Gretna Green." For instance, California's strict marriage requirements pushed many Golden Staters to marry in Reno or Las Vegas; Californians also utilized the less-glamorous Yuma, Ariz.

Examples of Michigan and Georgia Gretna Green marriages follow.

My great-grandparents, Edmund Thornton Housekeeper and Emma May Clark, married Sept. 17, 1899, in St. Joseph, Mich. The Berrien County town was considered the area's Gretna Green, especially for northern Indiana couples who wanted to avoid the rigorous marriage requirements in their home state. Interestingly, newlyweds Housekeeper and Clark were not enumerated together in the first decennial census after their marriage; rather, "Edward," age 22, and Emma, age 23, were each enumerated as adult children in the homes of their respective parents in South Bend in 1900. However, the couple's first child was born Nov. 2, 1900, in South Bend, and their second child, my grandmother, was born Feb. 16, 1902. The South Bend couple never lived in Berrien County, Mich., but they traveled there to take advantage of Michigan's easy marriage regulations.

Howard W. Folke was a young schoolteacher of Chambers County, in eastern Alabama, when he met Mary Appleby during Reconstruction after the Civil War. Folke had recently graduated from nearby Talladega College; Mary was a native of Chambers County. The couple crossed the Chattahoochee River to marry in Troup County, Ga., in 1875.

Alabama's strict marriage requirements sent many couples across state lines to marry; Troup County, Ga., was eastern Alabama's Gretna Green.

By 1880 the Alabama-born "W. Foche" was enumerated in Oak Forest, Lee Co., Ark., with Mary and their first child, "Bell," who was reportedly born in Arkansas about 1876. Like my Indiana great-grandparents, Howard and Mary Folke of Alabama and later of Arkansas and California never lived in the location of their marriage. Howard and Mary Folke's Gretna Green marriage lasted their lifetimes.

Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or [email protected].

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