Saturday, July 23, 2011

Divorce Records Aid Genealogy Research

Understanding the Legal Jargon
As with any research project, sometimes it's easier to find information from a backdoor.  So, when I couldn't find a marriage record quickly, I turned to the divorce records. (The wife's second marriage record indicated "divorce.") Surely the divorce record would provide the date of marriage and where it took place. But so much more was located. 

The 6 page legal document included not just the marriage date and place, the details of the divorce were outlined to include the reason: wife committed adultery;  the name of the paramour; place of residence; place of work; and, dates and places of rendezvous': "in the home" and "in the wood near the home.

My Wife Is An Infant!
I gave a second glance at the sentence that declared the wife as an infant.  What?!? Historically, infancy was defined as under the age of 21.  In this case, the wife married at 16 years old and was still in infancy at the time of her divorce - 19 years old.
The libellant [husband]...respectively shows to the Court that [the wife], is an infant. [1]
The document further explains that the husband served as the guardian but for the purpose of divorce proceedings, he asked that the court appoint a "guardian ad litem for said infant."

From the Bond of Marriage
It's not often you see A.V.M  (A Vinculo Matrimoni: translated from the bond of marriage) front and center on a divorce petition.  But when adultery was involved, a divorce, A.V. M., often followed. This is seen frequently in Pennsylvania and New York. 

Grounds for Divorce A.V.M.
  • adultery
  • canonical disabilities - where either party is unable to consummate the marriage
  • impotence
  • polygamy
  • desertion
  • if a spouse is imprisoned for life (NY) 
 Where's the Proof?
10. the respondent did, during the month of December, 1926, and at divers other times since, in the home of the libellant ..., while the libellant was absent at work, and in a wood near the home of the libellant  on the 6th day of April, 1928 and at divers other times and places which the libellant is unable to state, with ...[paramour] commit adultery in violation of her marriage vows and the laws of this Commonwealth. [1]

With the description above, there's no question why the divorce A.V.M. was granted. 

Importance of A.V. M.
Further reading of the divorce papers explains the importance of A Vinculo Matrimoni. Today the term "absolute divorce" is used, granting the party the right to remarry.
Historically, the guilty spouse could not marry the lover when adultery was declared.  Subsequent marriages were allowed, but not to the lover.  Plus, in many cases, the marriage was annulled as if it never happened.
12.  the libellant further prays that a decree may be given by your Honorable Court for the separating of said [wife],respondent, from the society, company and fellowship of  [husband], libellant, from the bonds of if they had never been married, and as if she, the [wife]...were naturally dead.  [1]

[1] "Libel in Divorce A. V. M." May Term 1928. Court of Common Pleas of Washington, Pennsylvania. From the County of Washington Office of the Prothonotary, Washington Courthouse, Washington, PA; in author's file.

Kathleen Brandt


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  3. Thanks so much for this excellent information on how to read and use Divorce records in genealogy research. I am excited to have this new resource to consider which I believe is going to help me fill in some gaps in my research for sure. Again, thanks!

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