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Using Newspapers to Find Divorce Records

Guest Post by Marc McDermott of Genealogy Explained

Divorce records from a newspaper.

Looking for divorce records can be a daunting task, especially if you don’t know where to start. But did you know that you can use old newspapers to help you find these records? By searching through newspaper archives, you can quickly pinpoint the time and place of a divorce. You can then find and request records more easily.

Let’s look at how you can use old newspapers to find divorce records.

How to Find Divorce Announcements in Old Newspapers

Divorce information can appear in multiple forms and sections in historical newspapers. Start by casting a wide net, initially searching for a name with a place or date range and potentially a spouse. Women will typically be listed with their married names, so don’t try to search using their maiden name.

Newspapers may list upcoming divorce cases in groups. Completed cases may be listed in a different section. Court proceeding announcements were also standard in newspapers. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, some notices were recorded in newspapers as a public warning that a divorce case was imminent. Such notices may have included the reasons for divorce.

In some cases, the divorce may be settled in legislation known as “personal law.” This means the settlement occurs via a lawmaking body and not a court. Any divorce resolved by personal law could be listed in a summarized series.

Finally, there is divorce as news and editorial. Well-known individuals might see the details of their marital, familial, and romantic life as a subject of gossip. Historically, women often found themselves taking the blame for the divorce. 

Examples of Things You Might Find

Newspapers list several vital pieces of information that may lead to the original divorce record. Here are a few examples:

  • Names of the plaintiff and the defendant, including aliases
  • Current or former residences
  • Date of the hearing
  • The docket number of the case 
  • Information about reverting to a maiden name, child custody, property, alimony, etc.
  • Where the court was located
  • Maiden name of wife (in some cases)
Divorce records from a newspaper.d

Always make sure to check for extra information, such as the original filing date of the divorce proceeding. Also, look for any indication that an appeal was filed and the date the appeal was heard.

By the 1940s, divorce notices included allegations for which the defendant was required to answer. This included issues like neglect or absence. 

Always make a note of the docket number (if given). These can be used to search for the case in the States judicial system. In some States, divorce records are not public records, so it is necessary to check the law in yours before searching.

Value of Divorce Cases
When combined with other historical records, divorce cases can give us a broader picture of our ancestors as human beings. They also teach us about societal pressures and influences that affected institutions such as marriage and family. 

These documents shed light on behaviors that may otherwise appear confusing in other genealogical records. 

Although divorce records may be painful, we have a responsibility to accurately document all our findings for future generations. 

Divorce Records in Newspapers
Divorce records are an essential source of information for genealogists and family historians. Researchers can find these records more efficiently by using newspapers like a searchable index. This valuable data can help fill in family trees, understand personalities, and form a picture of a family’s life. 

If you’re interested in exploring this type of record further, check out the collection of newspapers from around the world capturing more than 400 years of history at NewspaperArchive.

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