The marriage record is the most important genealogical document you can find: The marriage record establishes a documented presence in a place of residence. Traditionally, the marriage took place where the bride lived; then, the couple went to the place of residence of the groom to set up their household, near the groom’s employment. These places give you other residences and jurisdictions to search.
Other benefits from searching the marriages first:
Beginning of the family unit
Affects property ownership and descent
May name parents and other close family members
Identifies maiden surnames and beginning of family naming patterns
And since the average marriage before 1800 lasted only seven years, you can expect to find multiple marriages for one or the other ancestor in the initial marriage. Please consider:
__almost half of all marriages were broken by the death of one partner. Before their 15th anniversary; Before their oldest child became an adult; A new marriage was contracted and a new family unit begun—the average marriage lasted seven years
__partners re-married quickly and could have three to four marriages during a lifespan
__most children grew up as orphans and/or step-children with half-siblings
__one-third to one-half of all children born to a family never became adults—25% to 30% died within the first one or two years. And some 50% may not survive until age 20!
__this high mortality required the family to produce many children to ensure survival of the family
__marriages occurred early—at an average of 20 years of age or younger!
A wife was essential –
__brought dowry of money or property to the marriage
__bore and raised the children—the first workforce for the family unit
__was with child at marriage—17th century, under 10%; 18th century, up to 40% were expecting
A husband was essential –
__conducted the legal business of the family—women’s rights were few, wills were written to protect property holdings of widows and children as well as ensure the survival of the family
__protected against enemies on the frontier
__supported the family members economically
The marriage and family unit were dependent upon the kinship network:
__for financial advice and aid—mortgages and loans were made by relatives to each other
__for political preferment—based on who your ancestors were related to and who they knew—family connections, nepotism
__for legal protection—serving as bondsmen, witnesses, and co-signers
__for chain migration patterns—family units followed routes already taken by relatives and praised in glowing terms. Did you know that the majority of Italians who came to Cleveland, Ohio, were from same village in Italy?
__for settlement patterns—family members usually located their new lands near each other
__formed the legal basis for ownership of property
__legitimate claims to inheritance and preferment
__source of money from civil government agencies created to ensure the survival of heirs
Summary of “Bicentennial Perspectives on Birth, Marriage, and Death,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 65 (March 1977): 16-24. Richard Jensen, the author of this little-known and essential article, was Director of the Family and Community History Center, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.
Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS Research strategies often determine your success in finding hard-to-find ancestors; strategies determine the evidence you have to prove the ancestor is yours!