Series summary: The odd 1860 separation of Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee

Sepia Saturday 482: A recap of the series on the odd 1860 separation of my great-great-great grandparents Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee — a summertime census mystery.

Two months ago I began a quest to discover why my paternal third great-grandfather Zebulon Blakeslee was living separately from his wife Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee at the time of the 1860 federal census.
Divorce the lesser evil (1900). Original caption: The Church  – Stop this awful immorality! Justice – You are wrong! Divorce is rather an aid to morality. Statistics prove that countries where divorces are granted are more moral than countries that forbid them! Source: NYPL Digital Collections

That journey took me through census records, county histories and digital newspaper archives — and led to the surprise discovery that my Blakeslee third great-grandparents were divorced in 1866!

As each question about the Blakeslees was answered, new queries arose — and before long I was headed on a Genealogy Road Trip to the Susquehanna County seat in Montrose, Penna.,  to see what more I could learn about my third great-grandparents and their final rift.

Susquehanna County Court House, Montrose, Penna. (2019). As each question about the Blakeslees was answered, new queries arose — and before long I was headed on a Genealogy Road Trip to Montrose, Penna. Photo by Molly Charboneau

I discovered a great deal on that trip — which will be the subject of future blogs. But for now, here’s a recap what I have learned about my Blakeslee ancestors so far.

Separation and divorce

Life moves on

New Discoveries

Many thanks to the readers of Molly’s Canopy for following along throughout this series and posting insightful comments. There will be more on the Blakeslee saga in coming posts.

Up next: A new series on the Blakeslees’ divorce proceedings, as revealed by the court records. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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14 thoughts on “Series summary: The odd 1860 separation of Zebulon and Hannah (Hance) Blakeslee”

  1. I’ve enjoyed this blog so much….For your information, we share the same ggg grandparents…..My gg grandparent is Louis Desire, whose son William was my great grandfather and lived and operated Riverside Farm on the Old Moose Road in Boonville, N.Y.

  2. I’ve been following your story and am looking forward to the rest of what happened to this family. My husband’s ancestors divorced about this same time – on the cusp of the Civil War – but I’ve never been able to find any documentation, other than both remarried several more times! I guess it’s also possible that they just walked away from each other.

    1. Depending on where they lived, you might be able to find the divorce records. Some states, line Pennsylvania, had divorce laws from the 1700s — and fortunately they are considered public record, so are accessible to genealogy researchers.

  3. I love how you’ve taken a census mystery and turned it into a family saga with tons of historical context. Attitudes towards divorce have changed so much through the years.

    1. Thanks, Laura. Attitudes toward divorce have evolved since 1866 — and thankfully no need today for a woman to pass as a “widow” after her marriage ends.

  4. I have a vague childhood memory of first learning about divorce and thinking it seemed wrong and frightening. Like a death in the family but different and more hurtful. Of course now it is so common we hardly pay much attention, yet as I’ve learned in my recent research, a divorce was once front page news. Many of the reports on my Atlantic City love story shared column space with marital cases way more sordid and complicated.

    I’m always startled when a friend reveals something about a previous marriage that I knew nothing about. Even now there’s an element of secrecy and shame about separation. Yet with matrimony of the olden days, the wife’s rights of property, children, support, etc. were terribly biased toward the husband. Only by exposing abuse and neglect through the courts could justice be served.

    1. Interesting obervations, Mike. I still don’t know the specifics of this Blakeslee divorce, but instinctively feel sympathy for my third great-grandmother Hannah and admire her pluck in striking out on her own to live with her daughters’ families and even earn a living under the cloak of “widowhood.” Her contemporary Hance relatives included a number of strong female cousins who had careers and never married — so she may have been more bolstered in her actions than other women of her era.

  5. Like Kristin, I look forward to your next post to continue this mysterious story. I’ll be gone for two weeks, but will catch up for sure! 🙂

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