Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Genealogy, Free or Fee--Ask for Help

Floyda Mabel Steiner McClure
One of the mysteries of my husband's family is when and where his grandma, Floyda Steiner McClure (1878-1948) was divorced from her first husband, Aaron Franklin Gottfried. This first marriage (119 years ago, in 1898) was kept quiet because divorce was so unusual in those days.

In fact, I only learned about the first marriage because Floyda disclosed it on her marriage license for her second marriage, to hubby's grandpa Brice Larimer McClure (1878-1970). Two years ago, a social media genealogy buddy recommended that I call the Wyandot county courts and ask for help. Without a date, however, I was told it would take time to locate the records, unless I could come in person.

Today I was working on my Genealogy Go-Over and posted again on an Ohio FB gen page, asking for ideas. Folks urged me to call the probate court one more time. I did, giving a succinct description of what I wanted and asked for their help, explaining that I needed the info for genealogy, not for legal purposes.

Probate said they didn't have anything, but Clerk of Courts might have the divorce info. They sent my call over, and I spoke with a lovely lady who took down the names and possible dates and asked me to call back in 15 minutes. I set the timer and tried to be patient until callback time.

Eureka! She found Floyda's entire divorce file, which was settled during the April Term of 1901. At 10 cents per page plus postage, I won't pay more than $3 to solve this long-standing genealogical mystery. That qualifies as almost free, wouldn't you say? UPDATE: RESULTS OF DIVORCE DECREE ARE BELOW!

As part of my Genealogy, Free or Fee series, I urge you to ask for help! Who to ask: Check the Family Search wiki to see what department might have the relevant record. I couldn't find enough detail for locating divorce decrees from 1901ish, so I had to keep looking for someone to ask. Ask in Facebook genealogy groups, or try calling the courthouse or archives directly with your question.

Be polite, be patient, and offer to mail a check or money order with SASE, to keep things simple for the nice people in the records department or wherever. Respect the time of the people on the other end. They don't need to hear our long family history sagas. Most are genuinely happy to help solve mysteries if we come to the point about what we're seeking and give them enough info to find the records or files. Just ask for help.

For more in this series of Genealogy, Free or Fee, check the summary page here.

UPDATE! According to the dozen pages of legal documents sent by the court, Floyda initiated the divorce in early 1901, alleging extreme cruelty by her husband. She requested and was granted $215 in alimony as a lump sum in May, 1901. In today's dollars, that would be worth $5,921. Floyda won back the right to use her maiden name and she ultimately remarried in 1903, to Brice Larimer McClure. Floyda and Brice are my hubby's maternal grandparents.


  1. Sounds like it's time for a genealogy happy dance! Congrats on your wonderful genealogy find!

  2. Jana, I'm doing the happy dance for sure! My husband's family has wondered about this divorce for a long time and now, before the end of May, we will know who initiated the divorce and why.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. Stay tuned--details to follow!

  3. The hardest part of asking for help is framing the question. What is important to say? What parts need to be left out? Sometimes I have to write a script and then edit in order to make my question easy to understand. We understand the issue but what does another person need to know?

  4. Wendy, you make a really key point. I did what you do--I wrote down the names of the two people, including the woman's maiden name, and I estimated the years in which the divorce would have taken place. What I had no way of knowing is whether the divorce actually happened in Wyandot county. So I got very lucky in this case when the first county I tried turned out to be the correct county, where the bride lived and grew up.

  5. Marian, how satisfying to find this record, especially in the way you found it. Congrats!

  6. Elizabeth, I was just about resigned to not knowing without visiting the courthouse in person. Now, thanks to the encouragement of the folks on FB, I spoke with a really helpful official who was willing to spend a few minutes digging through records on my behalf. Can't wait to see what comes in the mail next week! Thanks for following along on this saga.

  7. Marian,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Genealogy Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2017/05/janas-genealogy-fab-finds-for-may-12.html

    Have a great weekend!

  8. Marian: Congratulations on solving this mystery! Your "Free or Fee" series is a great idea and very useful. I am recommending it in this week's "Saturday Serendipity" on my blog.

  9. Thank you so much, Jana and John, for reading and for sharing my post/series with your readers!