A divorce record, also known as a marriage dissolution certificate, belongs in the category of vital records. Utilized by the government for civil registration periods, divorce records help the government protect each individual's civil rights by legally recording their information.
Genealogists often utilize divorce records in their research in order to delve deeper into the lives of ancestors. While they do indicate the date of divorce and the name of the divorcees, they may also provide information regarding the dates of birth, addresses, names of the children, and even the terms of the divorce. All of this information can help paint a more robust photo of a family's history, as well as spark different avenues of research.
Although divorces were not as commonplace in the distant past, they still existed. And it is through divorces (and subsequent marriages) that our family tree can change in a dramatic fashion. Consider, for example, a distant relative divorced and then remarried. The second marriage may mean more children, or children from the other spouse's previous marriage, which could then a number of additional relatives to the family tree.
A divorce can spark a relocation or a change in one's home, which could then open up a number of different avenues. In short, a divorce is never just a divorce; it is the subsequent actions of the parties involved that begins to open up otherwise-closed doors and reveal a great deal of information about a family and its dynamics.
Official and Indexed Divorce Records
Genealogists can find divorce records through two means: official and indexed routes.
Official divorce records: Official divorce records are those that can be accessed, usually for a fee ranging from $12 to $20, through each state's Department of Health and Vital Records. Most states allow the public to access divorce records, although some states will require that a staff member assists you with more recent divorce records to ensure that confidential information is kept private. In particular, if there are children involved in the divorce, this information must be kept confidential to protect the identities of the juveniles.
In contrast, indexed divorce records are available through a number of websites, which can make your search easier. While there are many free websites, the accuracy of this information is not guaranteed. Subsequently, it may be worth the investment to purchase indexed divorce records through authoritative resources.
Where to Access Divorce Records
Depending upon each state, you can access divorce records through several avenues.
- State Superior Court: Check with your state's superior court, specifically the family law division or civil records department, to search for divorce records.
- County Superior Court: You can also research the divorce records kept in the superior court at the county level. Again, this information will typically be filed with the family law division or the civil records department.
- County Clerk's Office: If researching at the court level does not provide you with the appropriate divorce record, then look into the specific county clerk's office. Some states, such as Florida, organize all of their civil records in the Official Records Index, which is maintained by the county clerk.
- Authoritative Online Resources: Divorce records can also be easily researched and accessed through authoritative, online genealogy resources.
If you are stumbling across information in your genealogy research that just doesn't add up (a lack of photographs of an ancestor's spouse, for example), you may choose to research divorce records to ascertain whether a divorce occurred.
Divorce records can provide you with insightful information about your ancestors, information that may not be readily available through other civil records. A divorce record may give you an idea of how long people were married, how many children they had, and where they lived. Based upon this information, you may be able to utilize other avenues of research, including related newspaper articles, which could shed even further light on your family history.
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