One of the major tenets of genealogical research is to search everywhere an ancestor “might” have created a record, or where he “should have been” during a certain time period.
Ancestors don’t always follow those rules we set for them, however, and sometimes there appears to be no rhyme or reason to when and where they got off the beaten paths we’ve imagined for them.
My husband’s grandmother, Sarah Emaline, was married twice. Her first marriage is the one from which he descended, and she was 52 years old at her second marriage, so her second marriage was irrelevant to his heritage. But I want my research to be thorough, so I casually set out to document the 1961 event, confident that getting modern-day marriage records would be routine.
The family lived in Cobb County, Ga., in the early 1960s when Sarah Emaline met Price Hancock. A job situation resulted in his moving to Lamar (Barton County), Mo., and Sarah followed him a short time later. That’s where they married — or so her two daughters recalled.
I wrote to the court in Bartow County to get a copy of the marriage record. There was none. OK, perhaps the family was wrong and they married in Georgia before going to Missouri. I wrote to the appropriate Georgia court with the same negative results.
Everyone threw their hands up and sloughed it off as “no surprise if (grand)mother did it.”
The search for Sarah Emaline and Price’s marriage was pushed to the bottom of my research stack, probably to be tackled again some day when I’d answered all our families’ other research questions. Ha!
Fast forward two years to last month, when my mother-in-law, whose eyesight is failing, asked for my assistance in finding a deed to her property. I looked diligently at every document in her records (using a filing system understood only by her, bless her heart).
I was rewarded with yellowing newspaper clippings of various obituaries, a history of the little Alabama country church built on property that her second great-grandfather donated in 1861, and various other items of genealogical interest.
But nothing prepared me for this document: “State of Oklahoma, Marriage License, Ottawa County Court” for Price Hancock of Lamar, Mo., and Sarah Emaline McCollough of Huston [Houston], Ala. (where she was born).
Where the heck is Ottawa County, Okla., and why did Sarah Emaline go there to marry? And why didn’t my mother-in-law remember this and share it with me two years ago?
She simply didn’t remember that she had (not one but two) copies of the marriage license in her “important papers” files. No one can answer the “why Ottawa?”
Ancestors often ignored county lines. If the law didn’t require them to file something or pay something in their county of residence, it wasn’t unusual for them to travel across an invisible county line to conduct business — such as getting married — if it was geographically closer for them.
So I was eager to explore a map and see whether I’d dropped the ball by not looking at counties surrounding Barton County, Mo. I discovered that Barton borders Crawford County, Kan., and Ottawa is two counties south of Crawford.
I have no explanation for why these two apparently went on a road trip (along with two friends from Lamar who served as their witnesses) to the little town of Miami in Ottawa County. Certainly there must have been many other justices of the peace between Lamar and Miami?
But the mystery of “where” is solved even if the “why” still intrigues us all. Lesson relearned: Ancestors don’t always behave the way we think they should.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogical methodology questions and event announcements to her at email@example.com. She regrets she is unable to assist with personal research and cannot respond to requests for locating or researching individuals. Past Heritage Hunting columns are available online at tbo.com, search words “Sharon Tate Moody.