Tracing a Family Tree With Divorce Records 4

[author image= ]Alan Cairns is a writer and journalist based in Brighton, UK. He writes on several subjects including genealogy, relationships, online divorce and lasting power of attorney.[/author]

Exploring a family tree can bring all sorts of surprising details to light, and divorce records provide some of the most complete records of family history. Whole new parts of the family can be revealed in an instant, after being hidden for generations.

Photo Credit: texas_mustang

Photo Credit: texas_mustang

Some people have more success than others at tracing their family tree, and the actions and choices of their ancestors have a significant bearing on the amount of information available. When we research our family trees we tend to look for happy events such as births and marriages, but often it is actually the less joyous events, such as divorce, which can provide the most useful information.

Divorces are often covered up or simply not mentioned in families, and people tend to dislike imagining their ancestors having difficult personal lives, but these sticky situations are often very well-documented, and can provide answers when other sources of information have run dry.

It’s often true that the most unfortunate events and circumstances create the most extensive and interesting documentation. Criminal records too can reveal a lot about an ancestor that may not otherwise been available. Individuals might not take as much pleasure in reading about the misdemeanours committed by their relatives as about their accomplishments and achievements, but it’s often this sort of information that gives us the truest picture of our family history.

The reason that divorce records make such great reading for those researching their family trees is the sheer volume of information. Comprehensive notes are usually taken on a divorce case, including a blow-by-blow account regarding claims and counter-claims made by partners. Information such as the exact date that an affair started will often be included in divorce records, as well as the person in question, which can make for highly interesting reading when you have the tools available to find out more about everyone involved.

Divorce records will often also include a full history of the marriage, including dates and wedding venues, dependent children and even previous addresses. Even if you’re not interested in infidelity and divorce, divorce records will often provide the additional information needed to find the birth, marriage and death certificates for other members of the family, and to build a more complete understanding of their lives.

It might sound strange, but if you are researching your family tree and you discover that you have divorce in the family, then in some ways you are very lucky. Divorce records often include a wealth of personal information which can be extremely difficult to find for individuals who were never involved in a divorce case. Births, marriages and deaths might be the staple diet of genealogists, but often divorce records can be far more interesting.

If you’re considering investigating your family tree then prepare for surprises. It seems that almost every family has skeletons in their closet, and going back over old records can raise as many questions as answers. Be prepared to learn things about your relatives that you never knew before, including scandalous affairs and separations.

Images courtesy of  Herry Lawford and texas_mustang via



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4 thoughts on “Tracing a Family Tree With Divorce Records

  • jjuJud

    I know next to nothing about my ancestors except names and dates. So it is such a joy for me to find actual stories when I can. My godfather, I was told, was a consummate bachelor. However my research led to discover three marriages! I have been able to find one divorce only, but what fabulous reading. I learned the man was abusive and the testimony in the case was riveting. I even contacted a descendent of one of his wives who told me stories, saying the family still lives in the original house and claims this great uncle of mine haunts the place. Divorce is the best! I wish so that I could find the other divorce(S). Good blog!

  • Mariann Regan

    I found a divorce in Florida the other day, for a member of my Southern family. I never considered tracking it down — I just assumed there was no record of children. Now I will mark it so that I can go back and see what the whole story is!

  • Shirley Rankin

    The article would have more value if you had explain how to get divorce records. I have been trying for a few months to get records from St. Louis. It is close to impossible to get any records from the courts via mail.