Saturday, May 15, 2010

RESEARCH TIP: Divorce Records

Divorce may have been more common than we realize. This headline from the November 18, 1909 issue of The Republican, a Danville newspaper, decried the prevalence of divorce. The article was about the results of a 5-year study done by the Census Bureau (at the behest of Congress) to report on the country's marriage rate.
The Census Bureau's report showed that from 1880 to 1900, the U.S. population had increased by 110%, but divorces had increased by 700%. Indiana had a higher ratio of divorce per 10,000 people of marriage age than her neighbors--among the highest in the country, in fact, second only to some of the territories in the West (see illustration).

Hendricks County was not immune to the divorce danger. Each year the county clerk issued a report of how many marriage licenses had been issued vs. how many divorce cases had been filed, and from that compiled a divorce rate. According to the January 4, 1912 issue of The Republican, 134 marriage licenses had been issued the previous year, and 27 divorce suits filed, for a divorce rate of over 20%. The newspaper called the figure "appalling" and blamed the law for allowing a boy to marry at 18 and a girl at 16 if they had their parents' consent--ages when they should just be finishing high school.

At least one Hendricks County judge tried to stem the tide. In the October 12, 1922 issue of The Republican, Judge Zimri E. Dougan (pictured) talked of the need to teach the sanctity of marriage in order to "remedy the divorce evil." He also admitted to slowing down the process of divorce cases that came before him, refusing to hear them until at least 60 days had passed, even though Indiana had no law requiring this. He claimed success, as many of the cases were withdrawn in the interim.

Divorce records can provide you with details of the marriage (including the date, place and the woman's maiden name). If there were any children involved, the records also may give you their full names and birthdates.

At some point, Hendricks County court records from the 1800's (including divorce records) were sent to the Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis. The Archives reportedly did not keep all of these records.

The Hendricks County Clerk's office has a Microfilm Department, located on the ground floor of the Hendricks County courthouse in Danville (next door to the Self-Service Legal Center--take the west entrance to the courthouse). It has Hendricks County court records (including divorce records) from the 1900's.

The Microfilm Department has an index to the microfiche on a card file, which they will search for you (pictured: a divorce petition from 1906). NOTE: The court records were put on microfiche and then the papers were destroyed. Unfortunately, the images on the microfiche are not always clear.

The Republican includes a Court Notes section in each issue, with a summary of the court cases that were on the docket (including divorce cases). The Hendricks County GenWeb site has in its Data section a searchable index to these divorce cases from The Republican--as of this writing, it covers the years 1891 through 1961. The area newspapers also sometimes included items on divorce cases, particularly when they were first filed.  The GenWeb site has transcriptions of a few of these newspaper items.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"