Friday, April 22, 2016

A Genealogist's Perspective on Courting


Many of our historical western romances have as part of their theme drifters coming to town, folks moving in to homestead land or mine precious ore, or mail order brides riding in on the train or stagecoach. The reality is, most people out west courted the locals.


One of the big challenges in doing genealogy is finding the birth family of women. We often can find her married name on a census record and maybe a headstone or death record. However, oftentimes death certificates won’t have the spaces for the names and birthplaces of the parents filled out. Perhaps the recording official was careless. Possibly the informant was from a younger generation and did not know. And, unless a woman was the head of household, women’s names did not appear on federal census records until 1850. Even then, not much information was given on those earlier forms. So, how do genealogists find the maiden names and birth families for the women?

 One technique is to couple census record research with looking at the land records for where the family lived. Granted, some people did move around. But, most stayed in the general area where they were born.

Public land in states west of the Mississippi are organized and plotted using the range and township format. Land was divided into regions of six square miles, each containing 36 sections. Those sections could be subdivided into smaller plots. Often less populated areas were not known by the name of a town or a city, but by the name of the TOWNSHIP. However, there might be several small communities within a township.

What does this have to do with genealogists? We figure if a man courted and married a local girl, she probably lived within a half day’s walk or a half day’s horseback ride. Half a day to get there, time to visit a little, and half a day to get back home. Each of these days were no doubt bracketed by morning and evening chores.

One way to find what land fell within that half a day travel radius is by studying the township plot maps, especially the ones with the original owners’ names on the plots. Sometimes we need to find the bordering townships to see who fell in that radius, and check to see if any of those families had a girl child with the same first name and the right age during the census year before the couple probably married.

The moral is, for realistic romance stories not involving drifters, gold-diggers and mail order brides, if the groom doesn’t marry the girl next door, he probably married a girl within a half a day’s journey by horse.
 And, what if the family did move rather than stay in the same location? Back in the day, family groups and close friends—either neighbors, business/fraternal  associates, or people from the same religion or ethnic group—often traveled together. Census records show they often intermarried. For example, back in the early 1800’s, in my husband’s family, the Echols, Robbins and Godwin families migrated together. Their children fell in love and married each other.

Another example is Alma Township, Kansas. As editor of my local genealogical newsletter, I have been working with a member whose Prussian line --her direct ancestor and several siblings--came from Germany and ended up in this township. So did a whole lot of other Prussians. That was the marriage pool for the original immigrants and many of their children.


When looking for a mate, people often found romance with someone close to home.

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. The first three novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine,  A Resurrected Heart, and Her Independent Spirit, are now available. He Is a Good Man was published as part of the Lariats, Letters and Lace anthology.

Tweet this blog post:
A half day horseback ride away- A GENEALOGIST’S PERSPECTIVE ON COURTING @ZinaAbbott #CowboyKisses http://bit.ly/23Ni3g7

2 comments:

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

I admire that you've found info on your genealogy. I waited too long, and all the people I could ask questions of are gone. My mom is 91 and doesn't even remember her grandparent's names. :(

Kristin Holt said...

Fascinating and informative post, Zina. Thank you so much for writing about these true-to-life details. I enjoyed reading your insights.