Can I Find Historical Divorce Records?

Posted by Team - 27 May, 2015


Many people contact court house record reporting services to find historical divorce records within their family lineage. When searching for family ancestry, it's common for people to want to know if and when divorces occurred in the past. Surprisingly, a lot of people believe that the "olden days" were simpler times, when this is not necessarily the case. Since the beginning of marriage traditions, there has also been a history of unhappy marriages, often times kept secret. Divorces have been going on for hundreds of years, with or without family and public knowledge.

When searching ancestry records, people can learn quite a bit about the history of divorce in their family. Here are some tips when searching for historical divorce records.

Understand The Laws

First educate yourself on the specific divorce laws for any given time and area. Divorce laws have always and will always vary wildly based on federal, state, and even county laws. When looking into these records, familiarize yourself with the laws that were in place in the time of your ancestors. Many laws discouraged and even prohibited divorce, but that doesn't mean people didn't find ways around it. For men, it was much easier to file for divorce as women were regarded as property. For women, they were forced to prove that there was evidence of adultery, drunkenness, or physical abuse. Though it was much harder for a woman to get divorced, it did still happen, and a little extra research should uncover the reason. National resources that document federal and state laws like The Red Book are available at public libraries and online. In fact, the Red Book is available on's Wikipedia site. This is a great place to start when commencing your journey into your family history.

Check Online Resources First

Before you go out into the world and start digging through physical records, check online resources first. There is a plethora of divorce records in online sites like local newspapers,, and more. Cyndi's List is a great resource for researching public records of all kinds, from marriages to births to deaths. The site also offers helpful hints on how to start a divorce record search. After exhausting your online resources, then initiate the physical search. Many divorce records prior to the 1800s have not yet made it to the World Wide Web. County civil court records are a great place to look for dissolutions of marriages and divorces. A lot of people forget to check for annulments as well, which is a legal ruling that essentially voids a marriage as if it never happened. There are several different ways a couple could file for divorce at any given time, be sure to draw upon what you learned about divorce laws at that time when conducting research.

Research All Records For a Person 

Many people, even in the "good old times" got married and divorced several times. If you find a divorce record for an ancestor in your family history, don't be surprised if they remarried soon after filing. For every split in the record you find, be sure to research where that familial line goes as well. Likewise, look for birth and death records that may corroborate evidence of a possible divorce. For example, if you can't find a specific record for a family member's divorce, but can find a birth record for a new child with a different last name, there very well may have been a divorce or death at some point in the family tree. Once you have pinpointed a time-frame, search for newspaper records. You may uncover the motive behind the divorce or some other interesting tid-bits.

Overall, keep in mind the following when starting a search for historical divorce records:

  • Educate yourself on state and time-specific laws first

  • Be extremely thorough and follow each lead to its end

  • Keep an open mind. You never know, you might uncover a hidden marriage or other secret in your family history. 

Don't waste time at the courthouse, use!


Topics: Courthouse Documents

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