The question: Can I find a divorce record for my ggggg-grandfather Nathan Aldrich and his first wife, Marcy Ballou, around 1805?
What I knew that led me to think they were married and divorced:
- Nathan added Marcy to his family bible, which is located at the NEHGS, and later crossed her out.
- They had one daughter that I know of, my gggg-grandmother Nancy Ann (Aldrich) Darling. Late in life, Nathan Aldrich and his third wife, Lois, were living with Nancy’s son Ellis and his family.
- In 1802, Nathan published an advertisement in the Providence Patriot disowning Marcy
- By 1809, Nathan and his second wife, Chloe, sold a piece of property to Marcy’s father Richard Ballou in Cumberland, Rhode Island, and from then on, lived in Wrentham, Mass.
What I was NOT finding was any evidence of Marcy’s death. I wondered how that first marriage ended.
In Rhode Island at that time, divorces occurred in the Supreme Court. Records for the Supreme Court are stored at the Rhode Island Judicial Archives. I wrote to the Archives last fall requesting that the file be looked up. The answer came back that it could not be found.
More recently I decided to go in person, not knowing how much searching, if any, I would be allowed to do. The Judicial Archives are located at 5 Hill Street, Pawtucket, R.I. There is free parking across the street.
You enter and go up to the second floor, where you sign in.
I thanked Andrew for trying to help me via email a while back, and said that I was here with the same question. We talked about different forms of the names, and the time and place for the possible divorce. He checked the index again, no luck. He was willing to bring me the handwritten volumes summarizing ALL Supreme Court cases, in chronological order, from the period we were talking about.
I sat in a research room containing an old conference table which had probably graced a courtroom 75 or 100 years ago. I settled in to go, page by page, through the two volumes he brought me, which ran from approximately 1802-1807.
A true Rhode Island story
The first thing I noticed, as I paged through, was the set of judges on the R.I. Supreme Court at that time, which was repeated at the beginning of each “session” entry.
This is why taking the time to page through, record by record, can be so valuable. If my theory about Marcy Ballou’s mother, Lucy Arnold, is correct, then Marcy was actually the great-niece of Chief Justice Peleg Arnold. This is getting to be SO Rhode Island.
Less than halfway through the first book, I got lucky. I FOUND THE DIVORCE. Here it is:
[p. 220] “M. Aldrich” Be it Remembered that at the present Term of this Court Marcy Aldrich wife of Nathan Aldrich of Cumberland in said County prefered her petition, praying for reasons therein stated, that a decree of divorce may be passed in her [p.221] favor dissolving the bond of matrimony now subsisting between her and her said husband and for alimony – after hearing the same. It is ordered, adjudged and decreed by the Court here, that the prayer thereof be granted.
Of course I noticed the mention of a “petition” and “for reasons therein stated”. What was in the book was just a summary. The real divorce petition should have been stored separately. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be found. Andrew did find one for a “Mary Ballou” which he showed me, but it wasn’t my case.
Inside that petition:
You can see that if the Marcy Ballou/Nathan Aldrich petition could be found, it would likely contain 6 or 7 sheets of information about the marriage. Andrew promised to try again to find it, but that has not been successful.
I did notice in the summary record that she received alimony. After his newspaper ad refusing to pay any further debts of hers, I can only smile and perhaps, in a very not-based-on-evidence kind of way, assume this is some further proof that Chief Justice Arnold was her uncle. His name appeared on the session she was involved in, but whether he recused himself, I have no way of knowing right now.
However, I now know that they actually divorced in 1803. Nathan and his second wife moved a bit farther up the road into Massachusetts and had several more children. Marcy’s parents were in Cumberland, so I suspect she stayed there, however briefly. Later, there is evidence that Nancy Ann lived with her father. Did Marcy die? Remarry and move away? Become debilitated somehow?
The R.I. Judicial Archives
I mentioned to Andrew that I was going to write about my visit in my blog. He said it was ok to mention him. If any genealogists want to access historical records from the archives, they can contact him directly:
Andrew Smith, Judicial Records Center, absmith at courts dot ri dot gov.
The Judicial Records Center web site gives more information about record holdings and making requests, but Andrew suggests you email him directly to save some time. I would suggest anyone traveling to the center might want to email in advance to check on availability of records, and open hours.
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