Undertaking genealogical research involves more than growing a family tree. It means gaining a deeper understanding of traditions, not just of our own family but the culture we are rooted in. Because as we grasp how our customs have evolved through the centuries, we gain insight into our own family's history and way of life. And learning a bit about Colonial marriage traditions can be both enlightening and intriguing.

The original settlers of Jamestown, Virginia of 1607 were all men, no women among their crew. And the approximately 100 Mayflower passengers included only 28 women, making the task of obtaining a wife difficult at best for the early 17th century colonial male.

Eager and perhaps desperate for male colonists to marry, approximately 150 "pure and spotless" women arrived in Virginia between 1620 and 1622 to be auctioned for 80 pounds of tobacco to future husbands. Many other women were brought to the Southern colonies as indentured servants, marrying the men who purchased their contracts.

The colonists established laws pertaining to the rights of husbands and their wives. The wives had few rights to land or to their children; the children were granted legal guardians upon the passing of their fathers, even when their mothers were still alive. Women had the responsibility of clothing and feeding their children but the guardians addressed legal matters, such as the child's property.

The wedding traditions varied, depending on ethnicity. The Dutch and Germans performed wedding ceremonies in their native languages, and the Quaker's weddings were held in their meetinghouses without a clergyman. Southerner's and New Englander's wedding ceremonies were also quite different: the Southern weddings often held in the bride's home with a pastor and lavish parties; whereas New Englanders often perceived a wedding not as a religious rite but as a civil affair conducted by a magistrate.

And not only were marriage customs dissimilar depending on the culture one lived, but divorce and grounds for divorce varied between New England and the South. If a wife alleged physical assault by her husband in Massachusetts in the 1600's she had grounds for divorce, but in the Southern colonies her husband was only restricted from "inflicting permanent injury or death" (all other atrocities on a wife must have been fair game).

Many of the colonial churches maintained marriage books. And institutions, such as the New England Historic Genealogical Society, offers free searchable records of colonial churches of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

For leads into locating archived marriage certificates and church records, you may find the Genwed website helpful, providing links for all 50 states along with Ireland, the U.K and Canada.

It can all sound silly when learnng about the marriage traditions of the colonists but they eventually evolved into our present customs and gaining insight into your own ancestor's marriage traditions based on their ethnicity and location where they lived can provide clues to further your research.

So have some fun and learn about the marriage customs of your ancestor's religion and culture and you will establish a good foundation for your quest.

Possibly leading you to the ultimate discovery: their marriage records.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: GenealogyMagazine.com)

I often wonder if I will ever tire of this adventure I have stumbled upon; the search for grandfathers and grandmothers of years past. Over time, the peaks of interest for me in genealogy have ebbed and flowed but I have never had a feeling of completeness. There are moments that pull me away from my search; the responsibilities of work and family. But I soon find myself with my laptop, 'googling' until it's time for bed.

As family historians, we have become immersed with the world of the Internet. We are quickly becoming spoiled with the convenience of finding real genealogical documents on our computers, and with one click the records are at our fingertips. With expectations, we continue to look at every available website, every link that can bring us closer to our ancestors. But as we all know, there are limits to the big Internet universe and as hard as we try, we sometimes reach a dead end.

With great anticipation of putting my research into print, I wrapped up my family history book and mailed the manuscript off to the publisher. But even with a feeling of relief over my accomplishment, I had a small but ever noticeable feeling that something or someone was missing. It was that sense that there was something else, 'just look harder', I kept hearing in the back of my mind. And I kept going back to my research, looking at names and staring at one that was missing; my maternal great great grandmother.

Now all of us involved in this hobby-or obsession-accept that there will always be ancestors left unknown on our family tree, but this one was different. I was raised in a family home that was passed on through the generations with various extended family members living in it from time to time. My maternal great grandmother, Jennie, was the matriarch of my family and much of my heritage and family traditions are passed from her. So what was it that I was missing in my ancestral search? It was Jennie's mother, my great great grandmother. A woman that died at a young age, leaving Jennie age nine, without a mother.

I remember the day I felt compelled to pick up the phone. Much e-mail had been passed back and forth with the publisher over the final details of my book, but I just couldn't shake this feeling of incompleteness. Then it came to me: There must be a marriage certificate of my great great grandparents somewhere. And that's when I picked up the phone and called the court clerk's office of Oakland County Michigan. I requested a marriage certificate, sometime between 1861 and 1862, for Henry Clark, Jennie's father. I made a guess on the date based on my great grandmother's birth date. As Jennie was the oldest child, I speculated they must of married at least nine to ten months before her birth. The clerk on the other end of the phone was helpful, seemed accommodating as she responded with "I'll call you back in a few minutes."

Ten minutes had passed and the phone rang. "We have a marriage certificate of a Henry Clark and Rebecca Crawford for the 25th of April 1861." I instantly knew that was it! I had found a census record with the name Rebecca listed as the mother but of course, no maiden name available. I requested a copy and one was received within a few days. I immediately replaced the empty space on my tree on Ancestry.Com with Rebecca Crawford and information began to flow.

What evolved afterwards is saved for another blog, but the lesson learned is this: When stuck over an ancestor's maiden name, do not hesitate to contact the court clerk's office. Many archived marriage certificates are still stuffed in dusty, cataloged books on the shelves of little county court clerk offices, waiting to be found. Not with a click on the computer, but with the touch of the phone, providing proof of that missing ancestor so vital to your family tree.

Keep searching for answers,