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Researching Family History: Genealogy's 'runaway bride' or groom in the records

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 16 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

There are ways to find a missing bride or groom in genealogy records.

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Unlike the movie “Runaway Bride,” the bride or groom I am writing about is missing in the records. Some marriage records show only the bride or groom, with the other not listed or left blank in the records.

Many “runaway” couples in England and Scotland went to Gretna Green, a village just inside the southern border of Scotland. This was the elopement capital of Britain, and still is today. Gretna Green saw several marriages take place and many annulled or cancelled. What determined whether or not a marriage survived at Gretna Green is when the intended bride or groom “woke up,” realizing what they were doing (some grooms were intoxicated, not realizing what they were doing) — or the determination of the couple to stick together in any event.

At Gretna Green, the wedding “chapel” was mostly a set-up inside a blacksmith’s shop, which was not much more than a barn. The anvil served as the altar with the blacksmith as the officiator. These blacksmiths were known as “anvil priests.” Perhaps the blacksmith’s work apron became the ministerial or judicial robe of the anvil priest for such weddings.

The marriage records of Gretna Green can be found in the Family History Library or requested through the local LDS Family History Center in your area. The knowledgeable and friendly consultants and volunteers at the library or centers can help guide you to the needed microfilm rolls and books. Also check electronic databases for wedding records.

While researching a client’s line, the ancestor’s name was found along with his wife’s name and her birth information. He was the missing or runaway groom because his birth information had not been found. As we searched for it, every record showed a different birth place and birth date for him. It was when we came upon the 10th document we found the correct birth place and date of the runaway husband. This was his actual birth record. His birth date was two years off, two months late and eight days early on the first record found on him to his actual birth record.

We discovered that the different places written as his birthplace came from move-in records. Boundary and name changes of parishes he moved from added to the confusion of what showed to be his many birthplaces. On the other hand, the “recorders,” who were likely the ministers and clerks, wrote the information given them by him or his family. Needless to say, the record was only as good as the information written on it; and only as good as what was reported to the recorder who wrote the information down. Indeed, this was a classic case of looking for a needle in a smokestack, much less a haystack.

A client’s father had passed away. The name of the client’s grandfather was known, but the grandmother’s name was missing. Several records had been checked, looking for the missing or runaway grandmother’s name, but nothing was found. Finally, the father’s death record was located, which showed the client’s grandmother’s name. Until then, she was the missing or runaway bride to the client’s grandfather.

See if you or your researcher can find the runaway bride or groom on your line. Finding them is well worth the searches, because once found, the empty portion of the marriage document is filled in and they are finally identified in their rightful place in the family.

Genealogy graduate Russell Bangerter is president of Ancestral Connections, Inc. at www.ancestralconnect.com. He is a professional genealogist, author and speaker; and he is adviser to Treasured Souls To Keep, at www.treasuredsoulstokeep.com.

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