Monday, October 27, 2014

“Marriage Bureau Calm Once Again”

Front page of the 1 August 1940 Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported this happy news.  Happy news, at least, for those working in the Fredericksburg court clerk’s office.  That office had been under siege for 20 months with couples fleeing their states’ premarital examination law and “wait laws.”

“Stampede for Licenses over. Expect return to Normalcy” was the subheading. Why? Because on August 1, 1940 the State of Virginia’s new law requiring a serological test went into effect.

As reported in an earlier blog about digitizing of these marriage records, the Free Lance-Star confirms our guesstimate on numbers.  Through the end of July 1940 the total for July was 484, exceeding all records for a month, with the number to date for the year to 1,456.  [The end total for that year was 1,599]

The paper reported, “ Since early December 1938, when Virginia first began to feel the effects of “wait” laws which had been passed in a number of eastern states, until yesterday a total of 3,312 licenses were issues at the local clerk’s office.” 

Maryland no longer a Gretna Green.  Couples came to Virginia when Maryland, “one of the most famous Gretna Greens in the east passed a 72 hour wait law between issuance of license and marriage. That law went into effect December 1, 1938.  Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut had already passed laws – the reason for the high volume of these residents pouring into Fredericksburg.

Seeing this massive invasion of couples and the pressure it was putting on the court clerks, the Virginia Assembly discussed passing a “wait law” similar to that of other states. This was shelved and replaced by a law requiring a blood test for venereal disease.  Although the presence of venereal disease did not prevent marriage, the law demanded the infected person take treatment until cured, as long as they were Virginia residents.

Two photos are included with this article.  Couples being married are: Roland J. Leveque and Ellen Gordon; John Erhardt and Josephine Ryan of Philadelphia.  Virginia has Marriage Commissions, so couples could fill out the paperwork, pay a couple of dollars, and be married immediately inside the courthouse (or outside by a crepe myrtle in summer) by a Marriage Commissioner.  These commissioners are still available today and are allowed to charge up to $50 for each marriage performed.

Today - The article is helpful to us as we continue our digitizing efforts since it lists the years previous and how many licenses were issued each year.  As we go back to 1914, we will know ahead of time how many we can do in a morning.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

FRGS Fall Genealogy Program – A Success!!

For the past several months Shannon Bennett and I have been busy organizing a Fall Genealogy Program scheduled for Saturday 11 October 2014 at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg.

The program featured two 45 minute presentations on helpful search techniques for and using the U.S. Census. The third presentation was on a relatively new site, Find My Past.   Immediately following the presentations we offered one-on-one consultations for those who had made appointments - Fredericksburg’s version of Ancestors Road Show.

Over 50 people arrived for the three morning presentations.  Nine people were assisted with their brick walls following those sessions. Four more left their names for future assistance.

What we did right:  We kept the presentations to 45 minutes. The presenters were challenged to keep their PowerPoints to this amount of time, but were thankful when they achieved it.  We had a few minutes break between each session so computers could be switched out, which gave the audience time to visit the restrooms, grab some coffee, water and to sample some of the wonderful baked goods our members supplied.  The one-on-one sessions, called Brick Wall Busters, was also a hit. This concept is new to Fredericksburg, but I wanted to try it because it was a huge hit when we offered this in Newtown several years ago.  We are so thankful to the five volunteers who gave up their time, energy and expertise to assist these folks.

What we will do better next time:  When Shannon brought up the suggestion of doing a fall genealogy program there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm by members of the society.  But we forged ahead working with the library staff over the summer to put things in place.  A sort of holiday weekend (schools are in session on Monday), and apparent lack of the club’s enthusiasm to spread the word made us feel not many would show. Consequently, we did not feel registration was necessary except for the consults.  About 25 people thought they should register so my cell phone and email were busy this past week.  I realized then why registration is important - refreshments!!  Duh!  At first I thought one Box of Joe each for regular and decaf would suffice – I ended up getting 5 boxes (50 cups), which was way too much.  Live and learn.

We see the need for presentations that meet various experience levels. That is also a challenge for the presenters, but our three presenters yesterday met that challenge well.

We are already brainstorming for our next genealogy program!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

And the winner is …

New York City, with close runners-up of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC.

By 1913 many states had laws on the books requiring some sort of medical certificate or oath that the male was free of venereal disease before a marriage license would be issued.  New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia required an oath.

By 1925 many states passed laws that required a physical examination of both parties, but there was not much interest in enforcement.

In 1935, however, Connecticut passed the “Premarital Examination Law,” which required a blood test for Syphilis and a physical examination of both parties before a marriage license application could be made.

In 1936, Surgeon General Thomas Parren of the Public Health Service began a nationwide drive for venereal disease testing before marriage.

New York State enacted their “Premarital Examination Law” in June 1939.  Marriages in Upstate New York increased that year from 1938, and we suspect it was to get married before the new law took effect mid-year.

New Jersey enacted legislation in 1938, which may have driven those residents to seek licenses in Virginia that did not require blood tests until August 1940.

On October 1, we sorted the 1,771 1939 marriage licenses taken out at Fredericksburg, VA Circuit Court into piles of 100s.  We will start digitizing them next week, and it will be at that time we will learn when the licenses of the states listed above as the “winners” were taken out.  If the licenses for couples from New York were during the first half of the year, we will surmise it was to avoid the new premarital examination law passed by that state.

For further information on this subject please see Premarital Health Examination Legislation: Analysis and Compilation of State Laws, J.K. Shafer, M.D., published by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service. Digitized by Google; original from University of Michigan.