October 9th, 2013

Divorce Meccas That Might Reveal Your Ancestor

Divorce records are held by a number of different courts and associated archives. It depends on the country, state, province or county, and as such they can be difficult to locate. In the United States however, certain areas are known to have been Divorce Meccas; places that granted divorce with little or no hassle. Beginning your search in such areas may greatly reduce the amount of research and time you need to invest in finding divorce records, especially if searching ancestors from the 19th century.

Certain states, counties and colonies had reputations as easy palaces to get a divorce. Strict laws in one state led to people migrating to areas where they could easily obtain a divorce. One such area was Ashtabula County in Ohio. Its close proximity to New York, Pennsylvania, and Ontario in Canada led to it becoming a popular place to get a divorce. As such, it granted many divorces to people who weren’t residents of the state. Chicago was also popular, granting over 400 divorces in 1868 alone.

An early divorce Mecca surprisingly was the state of Utah, where lax laws, inexpensive court costs, and no residency requirement led to many travelling there for the proceedings. The state finally tightened its divorce laws when too many out-of-state applicants began to swamp the Utah legal infrastructure. Another area that rose to prominence in granting divorces was Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In 1890 the city was a major railroad hub, and the easy access, a residency requirement that allowed anyone resident in the state for more than 30 days to get a divorce, and an abundance of lawyers led many divorce seekers to flock there. An additional perk was that a defendant need not respond in order for a divorce to be granted.

Western states were particularly notorious for granting easy divorce. The divorce rate in such areas actually rose faster than in previously mentioned areas, even disregarding divorces granted to people who had migrated to them for the sole purpose of a divorce. The most common ground for divorce at that time was desertion, and many of those granted divorces were women who had left their husbands behind to migrate westwards. The majority of divorces though were filed by males, especially those whose wives did not join them on their journey west.

The extreme number of divorces granted in the late nineteenth century was very much responsible for the move to regulate and control divorce in later years. The good part for genealogists is that many records were created and the majority of been preserved. Below are the repositories for divorce records in each of the states and areas we’ve mentioned. They are a good source of genealogical data, especially for female ancestors who might otherwise be difficult to locate.

Ohio – Marriages were first recorded by Ohio county probate judges in 1797. A state-wide index of divorces was begun in 1949 and is maintained by the Department of Health in Columbus. Records can also be found in the original county courthouses, and many have been microfilmed.

Utah – Divorce records granted by the LDS Church between 1847 and 1852 are available only to descendants of the parties involved, and on a limited basis. Federal District Court divorces for cases between 1852 and 1896 have been put on microfilm and can be viewed at the Utah State Archives, or the US National Archives in Washington D.C.

South Dakota – Divorces in South Dakota have been under the jurisdiction of the county courts and must be obtained from the county for any divorce predating 1905. Divorce records from 1905 till present are kept at the South Dakota Department of Health in Pierre.

Nevada – County clerks un Nevada began recording marriages in 1860, and divorce cases were heard in the probate courts. The records may be found at the Nevada State Library and Archives in Carson City.

New Mexico – The Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe at the University of Mexico in Albuquerque have many records of marriage investigations spanning the years 1693-1846. They can be accessed at the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives