Monday, November 24, 2014

Not Just Anyone Could Get Married In Ohio

     Yesterday I was running some searches for my Ryan/Maher relatives who settled in Lexington, Ohio in the latter half of the 19th century.  At Family Search I found some Ohio records, and among them was the marriage of  Margaret Maher, daughter of Edward Maher and my 3rd great-aunt Ellen Ryan to William H. Zehner.  I also found the marriage of Margaret's daughter and only child, Helen A. Zehner to Walter R. Muth.  I had long ago discerned this information, but it was gratifying to see it confirmed in official records. What was surprising though was the forms themselves.

     Above is Margaret's marriage license from July of 1897, in it we see that in 1897 Ohio, the groom was required to be 21 years of age, but the bride only 18.  I was not aware a man had to be that old to marry in the 19th century.  In Ohio Territory back in 1788, 14 was the age a husband was required to have attained before tying the knot. There was no minimum age for the bride.  OK, next part--not more closely related than 2nd cousins-- that makes sense; next, the couple had to be of "the same color".  That one raised my eyebrows a bit, interracial marriages were not very common back then, but I had no idea Ohio outlawed them.

Helen Zehner and Walter Muth's License Application
           By 1915 when Helen was married, it appears things had loosened up a bit race-wise, but some new restrictions had been added.  Now the form asked if either of the couple were, "an habitual drunkard, epileptic, imbecile or insane, or if they were under the influence of any intoxicating liquor or narcotic drug".  Because we all know an habitual drunkard never lies???  Maybe it was to make any future divorce proceedings easier as in, "He never told me he was such a freaking imbecile."  Yes, I know, when they said "imbecile" they meant mentally impaired in some way, and I guess it's better than the formerly used term "idiot", but not much.  And epileptic?  That one really surprised me, so I Googled it and discovered that around the turn of the century many states had similar laws.  In the UK a law forbidding people with epilepsy to marry was on the books until 1970!

     Also uncommon in bygone days were divorces, but Helen had at least one.  Sometime before 1929 she and Walter Muth split, as in that year "Helen Grader" of Cleveland appeared as the informant on her mother Margaret's death certificate.  I cannot find Helen after the 1920 census, or her son Walter Jr. either until he resurfaces in 1940 living with his father Walter Sr.  The elder Walter was then proprietor of a beauty salon where he worked as a beautician, and his son managed a retail variety store.  Walter Jr. says in this census he was living with his father in 1935, so perhaps Helen had passed away by then?  And really, why do I care so much about these peripheral relatives?  

     Because it totally ticks me off that I can't figure out what happened to Helen.

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