Monday, April 18, 2016

Marriage, Annulments & Bigamy

While doing research for our books, authors often stumble across information that we find interesting or unusual, which to me is one of the most exciting part of writing.

For the book I am currently working on, I needed to find out more about annulments and divorce in the United States in the 1800's.  It can sometimes be hard to find out accurate information as different sources might have differing point of view and statistics.

As I was reading through documents and websites, I came to realize something that I hadn't really thought about before...

I have always had this "everyone was wonderful and people were much better behaved back then" attitude when I think of pioneer times.  (Well, except of course for the famous robbers, gangsters and villains of the time!)

I am referring more to the "average" folk, the people who were settling the land, living in sod houses, going to church every Sunday and working from sunup to sundown to survive.
When I would think of a teenager back then, I would think they would be responsible at a young age, working hard alongside their families and not having the time to go through the usual teenage "angst" we see today.

During my research, I realized that sometimes this wasn't the case.  Sometimes, a teenager did exactly what you would expect a teenager to do - make decisions dictated by their hormones that might not be in their best interest.

I was trying to find reasons why a couple would seek an annullment, and one of these reasons actually stated that a parent would file to dissolve the marriage on the grounds that the young son or daughter were too young and had got married without their consent.
I found this interesting because often we think that people would marry back then out of necessity, or marry young to ease the burden of caring for large families.

In today's society, a young couple might just run off and live together, perhaps even have a child while underage.  They aren't as likely to marry, but back in those days, living together outside of marriage would never be considered, so they would have to actually marry.

As a parent back in the 1800's, even though children were required to grow up much faster and take on more responsibility than today, it is interesting to see that they did still have to deal with some teenage disobedience.

Another piece of information I uncovered which was interesting to me, was the fact that there were many cases of bigamy in these times.  Bigamy would be another reason for filing for an annulment.

And, it wasn't just men.  There were many women who married more than one man, and in one case I read about, the woman was married to two men.  When the second husband found out, she tried to console him by saying that she only did it because she liked him better.  So, even though she was already married, I would assume when she met this man, she liked him more so decided to just marry him too.

I can't imagine how they would keep the charade up, or the details of each case, but it was interesting to read about.  Especially since the other partner could have them put in jail for their indiscretions.

If you would like to read more about the case, and about annulments and divorce in the 1800's, the article I found the most interesting was at

Sometimes, even though we think back on "simpler times" and imagine that everyone was on their best behavior, we should try to remember that even then, people made decisions that we would be shocked to think about.

Kay P. Dawson’s first mail order bride series, Wilder West, is available on Amazon.  Her new series, Oregon Sky, will feature the Wallace family who have settled in the Willamette Valley.  The first book in the series, “Phoebe’s Promise”, takes place over the Oregon Trail - available now on Amazon.

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  1. Kay, you are correct, people are people no matter what the time frame. It is nice to think of 'simpler' times, but we seem to be finding that is not always the case. Thank you for sharing what you have found.
    I ran across a piece in the paper where a husband was trying to have his wife committed because she was renting out 'HER' property to a man. **Sigh** Doris

  2. Kay, in the early days of the United States (or when it was still a colony), divorce was the same as what we would call legal separation. Usually it was the man, but if he was fed up with a family situation, he would move to a different place, marry again and start a new family without anyone being the wiser. Because communication was so bad, there was a good chance the first family would have no idea if the man was dead or alive or where he had gone.

    My friend has a situation in her family tree where a Welshman had a family with several children in Wales, immigrated to the United States leaving his family behind, remarried and had a new family with his second wife. By the time he died, children from his first marriage found him. It took years for the courts to settle his estate. It turned out that those children who were from the first marriage, and those children who were born to the second marriage AFTER the first wife died were allowed to inherit. The children born in the second marriage during the years the first wife was still alive were considered illegitimate, and therefore, based on the laws at that time, could not inherit. What a mess.