Sepia Saturday 475: Fourth in a series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.
Discovering that my great-great-great-grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee lived separately during the 1860 U.S. Census sent me searching for answers.
I was looking for all sorts of circumstantial evidence to explain the Blakeslees’ separation. What I never expected to find was a permanent rift between my great-great-great-grandparents.
So imagine my surprise when a random search for “Zebulon Blakeslee” in a digital Pennsylvania newspaper archive turned up the following announcement in the 28 Aug. 1866 issue of the Montrose Democrat!
The Blakeslee divorce
Wait…what? Divorced? I could hardly believe my eyes. But there it was in black and white — the solution to my Blakeslee mystery — decreed by the court and published in the newspaper for all to see.
Although divorce is now a socially accepted way to end a marriage, the Blakeslee’s final rift had to be a much bigger deal in 1866.
Once I adjusted to this new reality, I wondered where I could find out more about my ancestors’ divorce — and whether court records might be available.
A few calls to the Susquehanna County Historical Society and the county courthouse gave me the answer: Yes, and accessing them in person would be best.
So I will soon be headed to Montrose, Penna., to see what I can find. Stay tuned for future posts on the results of that trip.
Mysteries within a mystery
Meanwhile, I was particularly blown away to discover the Blakeslees’ divorce because my previous research implied that Zebulon had died and left Hannah a widow.
My great-great-great grandmother Hannah repeatedly referred to herself as a widow in post-1866 census and other records — and she is listed as “widowed” on her 1888 death certificate.
Even her tombstone refers to her as the “Wife of Zebulon Blakeslee.” (Although I have long suspected that something was amiss, because Zebulon is not buried with her.)
Had Hannah simply created a more acceptable public cover story for herself to obscure her years of separation from Zebulon and their ultimate divorce? One source suggests that keeping silent about marital disruption was not uncommon:
Divorce and widowhood are two relatively public ways that a marriage can end. For a long time in American history, they have been subject to at least some level of public record keeping…Overwhelming historical evidence suggests, however, that many marriages ended long before the coroner or the divorce judge became involved and that frequently, both parties had their reasons to keep silent about their marital disruption.1
The Blakeslee story comes together
Thus ends the mystery of the Blakesees’ 1860 separation. And once again, genealogy research delivers the unexpected!
Yet learning of my Blakeslee ancestors’ divorce has also brought disparate pieces of their story together in a way that finally makes sense.
There will be more on this in the next post — particularly how Hannah and Zebulon lived their separate lives after the divorce was granted.
Up next: Epilogue to the Blakeslees’ divorce. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
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