Sunday, July 1, 2018

Discoveries Waiting to be Made in Marriage Records

When I get stuck at a brick wall, I try to find a creative way to get over it. After I've used census and vital records, and then descendancy and DNA research, I look for clues in records - both new and already used - that might give me a step up. Recently, I had an aha moment after visiting the Powhatan Circuit Court to gather some copies of marriage licenses. I realized that I've been overlooking a lot of clues! So this time, I'd like to share how marriage records can point us in new and interesting directions in our research. Maybe your next discovery is just waiting to be made in a marriage record!

1. Locate the marriage records

There are many types of marriage records made over the years in different parts of the country, and there are also various places these records can be found. Online, you can find copies of original marriage records along with indexes. In person, you can locate marriage records in local or state archives.

In the modern age of genealogical research, we can often settle for (or accept as sufficient, whatever the case may be) the indexes that are available online. There are several problems that can arise with indexes, however. Firstly, indexes are handwritten or typed transcriptions of other records. Secondly, online indexes are themselves transcriptions of those transcriptions. So if we rely on online indexes, we're likely accepting the high probability of there being human error between the event itself and the record we have of that event. So how do we get around this problem, if that's even possible?

We need to check the local archives to see if marriage registers or original marriage licenses are available. In the case of Powhatan County, there are both marriage registers as well as marriage licenses available (for many but not all years). So what was I able to find in these marriage records?

2. Details in marriage records

When looking at the earliest "Register of Marriages" in Powhatan County, there are several columns of information provided: date of bond, name of husband, name of wife, parents or guardian of husband, parents or guardian of wife, security and witnesses, and minister. In most cases for Powhatan, the parents or guardian of the husband are not listed. Additionally, the minister is often not listed in the register.

For marriage registers in the latter part of the 19th century, additional information is available: age of husband and wife, whether the parties are single or widowed, the places of their birth and current residence, the names of their parents, the occupation of husband, and the name of the person performing the marriage ceremony. But remember, this record is also a transcription of other (possibly) available records. So we should always seek out the marriage licenses to see if the names and other information have been properly transcribed.

Once we locate the marriage licenses, we might be tempted to look only at names, dates, and places. What else matters, right? Potentially very helpful to your research are those other bits of information provided in the licenses: the occupation of the husband, the precise location the marriage occurred, and the name of the minister. So for this post, let's see what we can figure out about our ancestors by paying attention to their minister.

3. Finding our ancestors' ministers

Let's see what I found on my Williams family from Powhatan. I looked first for the minister who married my earliest known Williams ancestors (Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams) as well as the ministers for the marriages of their children. I also looked for the marriage record of James H. Williams, a man from Powhatan who I have suspected may be a brother (or cousin) to Joseph Williams. In the course of searching for these records in the circuit court, I also found the marriage records of several other Williams men I have noted in earlier research.

The marriage register does not list the minister for Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams, and I haven't been able to access their license from 1838. However, based on the dates listed in the marriage register, I was able to find the marriage licenses for three of their children. The eldest child, Eliza W. Williams, was married to Archer Hoye on 5 July 1855 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Emmaline Williams was married to Benjamin Alfred Gary on 4 October 1865 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Joseph Edward Williams was married to Mary Jane Barley on 27 July 1881 by Rev. B. H. Dupuy.

Eliza W. Williams was married by Rev. Joseph Goode on 5 July 1855 in Powhatan

What about some other Williamses from the county? The marriage license for James H. Williams shows that he married Polenia Ann Utley on 26 November 1874 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Also, the son of James H. Williams (by a previous wife) named William Joseph Williams was married to Rebecca B. Faudree on 22 September 1862 by Rev. Joseph Goode. Another Williams man, the son of Henry Williams named George Madison Williams, was married to Mary Elizabeth Richardson on 11 April 1855 by Rev. Joseph Goode.

Joseph Edward Williams was married by Rev. B. H. Dupuy on 27 July 1881 in Powhatan

Are you seeing a pattern? Five of the six marriages were all performed by a Rev. Joseph Goode. These may be the same man, or they could be more than one man with the same name. These marriages range from April 1855 to November 1874. Only one was performed by another man, a Rev. B. H. Dupuy. So who were these two ministers?

4. Why discover our ancestors' ministers?

Why would I be interested in my ancestor's ministers? If, as I've demonstrated above, there is a pattern (ie. multiple family members or possible family members using the same minister) then it might suggest that there was a family church. Many denominations keep records of baptisms, marriages, membership records, deaths and burials, and even minute books. By determining our ancestors' ministers, we can not only paint a more precise picture of their every day lives, but we might even find yet undiscovered records through church archives.

5. Case Study: Rev. Joseph Goode

The signature of Rev. Joseph Goode from the marriage record of Eliza W. Williams

I started my search on Ancestry for "Joseph Goode" in Powhatan County with an estimated birth of 1820 (assuming he was at least 35 when he performed the marriage of Eliza W. Williams in 1855). I found a marriage record of a Joseph Goode to Emaline Bowles on 18 November 1833 in Powhatan. Knowing this could be one of many men with the same name, I followed this path for a bit. I next found Joseph and Emaline Goode living in upper Chesterfield County in 1850. He was listed then as a farmer. I then find Joseph and Emaline in 1860, with him still listed as a farmer, living in Southern District of Chesterfield County. When I found them again in 1870 in Chesterfield, with him still listed as a farmer, I started to lose faith he's the right man. Shouldn't he be listed as a minister? Finally, in the 1880 census, I find a Joseph Goode who is a widower and a preacher living in the Clover Hill District of Chesterfield. All four of these records give him an approximate year of birth as 1812 or 1813.

There is also an 1880 census document available called the "Supplemental Schedules, Nos. 1 to 7, for the Defective, Dependent, and Delinquent Classes" that lists Joseph Goode in Chesterfield. It shows that he has suffered from "melancholia" for one year, since he was 66 years old. It also shows that he requires to be often kept locked under lock and key at night. When I go back to the 1880 census, it shows that he had been unemployed for that entire census year and he is marked as insane. I then find a death record for a Joseph Goode, a farmer, who died in 1881 in Chesterfield, the son of Joseph and Judith, and the widower of Emeline Goode. So it seems this might be my family's pastor, who worked as a farmer and preacher until his life ended as a widower suffering from depression. What more might I find on him?

After doing a Google search for ""Joseph Goode" pastor Chesterfield Virginia", the first result is for a book in Google Books from 1887. The book is called "Virginia Cousins: A Study of the Ancestry and Posterity of John Goode of Whitby" by George Brown Goode. On page 104, I find a description of a Rev. Joseph Goode who joined Skinquarter Baptist Church in Chesterfield County in 1796. He lived from 4 April 1776 to 13 October 1823 and was married to Judith Watkins (the daughter of Rev. Benjamin Watkins of Powhatan) in 1796. Since the marriages I've been researching occur from 1855 to 1874, I know this can't be my Joseph Goode. But, I recall (as I mentioned above) that Joseph Goode's parents were Joseph and Judith. Could Rev. Joseph Goode's father also have been Rev. Joseph Goode? As I read further on page 104, I see that one of the sons of Rev. Joseph Goode and Judith Watkins was another Rev. Joseph Goode. It reads, "Rev. Joseph, m. Miss Bowles of Powhatan, Baptist Minister and farmer in Chesterfield Co., near Genito: insane in 1880."

Excerpt from p. 104 of "Virginia Cousins" by George Brown Goode

This one page of a book written in 1887 confirms my research and also shows me that my family had a strong connection to Skinquarter Baptist Church. Perhaps the younger Rev. Joseph Goode wasn't the preacher at Skinquarter as his father was, but he certainly was working in the Genito area where my Williams family lived, and down the street from Skinquarter Baptist Church. This tells me I next need to do research on Skinquarter Baptist Church at the Virginia Baptist Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia. Perhaps I will find there records of my Williams family's baptisms or other membership records.

6. Case Study: Rev. B. H. Dupuy

The signature of Rev. B. H. Dupuy from the marriage record of Joseph Edward Williams

After finding so many records of my Williams family members being married by Rev. Joseph Goode, I was fascinated by the fact that my own ancestor, Joseph Edward Williams, did not get married by him when he married Mary Jane Barley in 1881. Instead, he was married by Rev. B. H. Dupuy. As I found out through my research above, Rev. Joseph Goode had passed away the year before. So was Rev. B. H. Dupuy another pastor of Skinquarter Baptist Church? Or was he perhaps the pastor of Mary Jane Barley's family?

Since I knew that Rev. B. H. Dupuy was serving in Powhatan in 1881, I first searched the 1880 census for Powhatan County for a B. H. Dupuy (hopefully listed as a preacher or minister) born around 1845 (which would make him around 35 in 1880). And voila! I found him! Benjamin H. Dupuy, born about 1845, was living in Macon District of Powhatan County in 1880 with his wife, two children, and his brother. And even better? He's listed as a preacher! I next find him in 1900 in Marion, Crittenden, Kentucky with his wife and now seven children born between Virginia, Missouri, and Mississippi. In 1910, he's listed as a Doctor of Divinity living in Lake City, Columbia, Florida with his wife and three children, and by 1920, he's a widower living in Leesburg, Lake County, Florida with his son. It's also worthy to note that in the 1910 census he's listed as a Confederate veteran. Finally, I find a record through FindAGrave of a Rev. B. H. Dupuy in Leesburg, Lake County, Florida who passed away in 1926. While the FindAGrave profile for his burial lists him as Rev. Benjamin Hunter Dupuy, his grave simply reads Rev. B. H. Dupuy. It also mentions that he was a Confederate soldier in 1863 and a Presbyterian Minister in 1876.

Next, I did another Google search: this time for "Benjamin H Dupuy Powhatan Presbyterian". The first result is a digitized copy of "The Huguenot Bartholomew Dupuy and His Descendants" by Rev. B. H. Dupuy, Pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Beverly, W. VA. published in 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky. Could this be the same Rev. B. H. Dupuy who married my ancestors?

When I do a page search (Ctrl f) for "Benjamin H Dupuy" in this book, I find that pages 207 through 209 are for a Rev. Benjamin Hunter Dupuy. It shows that he was a Confederate soldier who volunteered in May 1863 and was engaged in the battle of Gettysburg on July 2-3, 1863. He graduated from Hampden-Sidney College in 1873 and Union Theological Seminary in 1876. He was ordained in August 1876 by the Presbytery of East Hanover and was the "Pastor of the Powhatan and Stated Supply of the Willis churches, Va., 1876-83" (p. 208). It also mentions that he had been a pastor in Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and at the time of this book he was the pastor in Beverly, West Virginia. But is this the same man as the author? Well, page 209 reads, "A frequent writer for the Church papers and author of this volume." I guess that's a yes! It also confirms that his whole name is Benjamin Hunter Dupuy.

I then discovered through some more internet sleuthing that Powhatan Presbyterian Church later became known as Providence Presbyterian Church. Providence Presbyterian Church (Powhatan, Virginia) church records, 1825-1967 are available online at FamilySearch, as well as at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond. (You can guess where I'll be exploring soon!)


If we're doing genealogical research as a simple discovery of facts, of dates and names and places, we're only going to see what we want to find. But if we recognize that we're about discovering and encountering our ancestors, then we will want to discover some of what (and who) gave richness to their lives. Marriage records provide a window not only into the facts of an event, but can also show us who our ancestors let into the most intimate of life's celebrations.

My research helped me see that Rev. Joseph Goode and Rev. Benjamin Hunter Dupuy had meaningful relationships with my ancestors. They were more than ministers of a marriage; they were their pastors and community leaders. Their relationships with my family help point me to further research - both in Baptist and Presbyterian church records - and give me a sense of the religious diversity of my family. It also causes me to ask other questions. Were the Williamses members at both Skinquarter Baptist and Powhatan Presbyterian? Was the Williams family Baptist while the Barley family was Presbyterian? How did this difference in faith impact the dynamics within the children of Joseph Williams and Ona Ann Adams?

Marriage records hold clues just waiting to be discovered that will point you to the next research questions for your genealogical research. What have you discovered from marriage records for your ancestors? Have you ever researched your ancestors' ministers?

By researching marriage records and discovering my ancestors' pastors, I've also encountered my ancestors themselves, remembering the past made present. I hope you'll join me next time on this journey of discovery!

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