Wednesday 16 January 2013

Ancestry adds divorce papers, 1858 to 1911

Ancestry has launched a collection of 68,128 UK Divorce Records, 1858-1911.

The records, which originate from the National Archives in Kew, London, also include petitions for separation and for nullification of a marriage.

In most cases the files contain only minutes, pleadings and decrees, but in certain selected files, papers have been preserved in their entirety.

Some or all of the following may be found for the majority of cases: name, spouse's name, petition year, date and place of marriage, names and birth details of children and a copy of the marriage certificate.

The records also indicate who filed the petition and who the respondent was. They may also provide a short history of the marriage (including addresses), the grounds for the divorce petition with some details (such as names, times, and places associated with adultery or desertion), terms of judgment, and other details. These details can make these records both informative and very personal.

When searching a particular entry in the database, be sure to use the arrow keys to move backward and forward to see all the documents in the file.

While this collection isn't of prime relevance to Irish genealogy, I mention it because it's just brought crashing down an ancient brickwall in my own research. One of my grandad's brothers, Michael, arrived as a 23-year-old in London in 1902. In 1916, aged 35, he married an English widow called Alice.

So far so good. But when I started nosing around Alice's past, I got a shock. She had indeed married, but I could find no death for her first husband. What I could find was the two of them, living separately and alone at London addresses in the 1911 census, both claiming to have been widowed. These are definitely not cases of mistaken identity!

And now Ancestry's new collection has unravelled the story. Alice and her first husband divorced in 1910. No additional details available, but I don't really need them. I'm guessing that the stigma of divorce was still strong enough in the Edwardian period for people to prefer the 'widowed' tag.

However, it rather looks as though she lied to her new beau. Michael was a Catholic and divorce would have been a huge obstacle to overcome during their courtship. I suppose it's also possible that she told him the truth, love conquered all, and they chose to go with the 'widow' story to make it more palatable to his family. I'm never going to know (they didn't have children and no stories have been passed down to the wider family).

I think I'm just pleased that the marriage wasn't bigamous, even if it was, legally, fraudulent.