Looking for earlier marriages

When editing an article for the Mayflower Descendant, I try to look for references the author might have missed, which, in turn, can sometimes lead down a rabbit hole of further information only tangentially related to the article at hand. The following concerns an upcoming article in our Winter Issue by Rich Hall on the Mayflower ancestry of U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. The article is quite interesting, as it adds an additional generation on Senator Duckworth’s lineage for which she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution.[1] The Senator’s line has a number of generations of people marrying several times, with spouses who were also married several times. The following is one such example.

The Senator’s great-great-great-grandfather Augustus Stanley Smith of East Hartford, Connecticut (1825-1910) was married three times; his first wife, Electa, was the Mayflower descendant, by whom the Senator descends from John and Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland. Hall’s article described Augustus’s third wife Sarah Chipman, whom he married by 1864 – when their son Stanley was born – as “born in 1829, died in 1906, and … buried at Union Cemetery, Waterford, Connecticut,” referring to the gravestones of both Sarah and son Stanley. Please note that Sarah is not an ancestor of Senator Duckworth, only the third wife of her ancestor, so the following account was a tangential pursuit regarding the overall article.

Noting Sarah’s birth in 1829, I initially thought a first marriage shortly before 1864 was somewhat late for the time, and I wanted to get both her marriage and death dates. I checked the Connecticut Death Records Index, 1897-1969, to get Sarah’s full death date, and learned she died in New London. I then went to the New London Vital Records on FamilySearch, which had the full death information, including her full date of birth and birthplace, and full names of both parents – Samuel Chipman and Phoebe Tift. Then, within these same New London Vital Records, I found Sarah’s marriage to Augustus on 8 July 1861. While the marriage record does not state how many times either party was married before, since the bride was listed as “Sarah Chipman,” I assumed this was her first marriage. While I could not find Sarah’s birth in New London in 1829, her death record provided the full date. I considered the facts on Sarah to be “complete.” Not so fast!

Although the marriage record does not state how many times either party was married before…, I assumed this was her first marriage.

My colleague Gary Boyd Roberts looked over Hall’s article and suggested I check the 1970 Chipman Genealogy, since most Chipmans of New England are also descendants of Mayflower passengers John and Elizabeth (Tilley) Howland through their daughter Hope Howland, who married John Chipman. Sarah was there with her parents on page 194. Except instead of noting her marriage to Augustus Stanley Smith, it said she married John M. Skinner in 1847!

I found a marriage between John M. Skinner and Sarah Chipman in New London on 5 December 1847, but then things started to get confusing. I found John with a wife Sarah up until 1863, when a son John Franklin Skinner was born in Rhode Island (two years after Sarah Chipman married Augustus Smith). However, this last John F. Skinner was the result of an 1859 Rhode Island marriage between John M. Skinner and Sarah E. Wilmarth. This same John M. Skinner was married again in Norwich, Connecticut on 25 March 1868 to Juliette Corbin, and appears with her in the 1870 and 1880 censuses with children by his [second?] wife Sarah. Was this even the same John M. Skinner who married Sarah Chipman? The short answer, yes!

Sarah Chipman was with her parents in the 1860 census under the name Sarah Chipman, but she was not with them in the 1850 census, when Sarah and John M. Skinner were also living in New London. Finally, the lightbulb went off – DIVORCE!!

I checked Connecticut Divorces: superior court records for the counties of New London, Tolland & Windham, 1719-1910, and there on page 128 was the following summary:

The full court docket is also available here on FamilySearch. This was the second time recently I used this index and the full divorce record for a Mayflower Descendant article. In both cases, the divorce records supplied substantial genealogical information; this other article also prompted me to make a rather elaborate chart showing the various interconnections between those families who were also in New London County.

When I mentioned this earlier marriage of Sarah to Rich Hall, he told me he had seen the Chipman genealogy, but since it mentioned that Samuel and Phoebe Chipman’s daughter Sarah married John M. Skinner, Rich had thought this was a different Sarah Chipman, and he had not looked at the marriage or death records to show Sarah (Chipman) Smith was the daughter of Samuel and Phoebe. I, on the other hand, did see the marriage and death records, but didn’t consider this earlier marriage until seeing the Chipman genealogy, which I only checked thanks to Gary. Always helps to have a few fresh sets of eyes to see if anything might be missing!


[1] Senator Duckworth’s great-grandmother Daisy Dean Amick was raised by her maternal grandparents, who were identified as her parents in some records, when she was actually a child born to her grandparents’ elder unmarried daughter.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

9 thoughts on “Looking for earlier marriages

  1. Chris ..: great article. I have always been interested in Chinese Genealogy (she is half Mandarin) as well although I have none. I have seen episodes of Henry Louis Gates’ show and Who Do You Think You Are, And once someone of Chinese Ancestry can find a link to an ancestral tablet or scroll Genealogy they basically can go into the time before Christ. Very very fascinating Heritage

  2. In researching my Ireland ancestors in the early 1800’s I was searching the Catholic parish registors for my ancestors in a small town in County Cork, Castletownroche on the free National LIbrary of Ireland site nli.ie.. Since that parish was small I decided to browse the whole register and discovered my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather had an earlier wife not my ancestor. Checked the death records and she had died. Browsing these registers can lead to wonderful discoveries for those of you seeking Irish ancestors.

  3. Good Chris Hunting, there. Kudos to Gary for keeping his oar in the water.

    That New London marriage record you link to shows that the couple named next AFTER John and Sarah are the couple whose divorce record appears BEFORE John and Sarah’s in the CT Divorce Book. The former provides the bride’s maiden name, STARK, while the latter does not. However, everything else matches: marriage date, her surname, his full name, location. Stuff just shows up the more information is web-available, supported, of course, by the material resources (i.e. books) on the shelves of a Major American Research Institution!

    1. Thanks Robert, having the abstracts for those three counties is helpful before getting into the full records, knowing there is a divorce record. There is an article in Connecticut Ancestry, Aug. 1988, Vol. 31, No. 1, p. 1-24, “Connecticut Divorces from the Resolves and Private Acts of the State of Connecticut,” by Thomas Jay Kemp; and the Connecticut State Library has this bibliography for other indexes: https://libguides.ctstatelibrary.org/hg/divorce/indexes

      While many of the full divorce papers are now online on familysearch into the mid 19th or early 20th century, Fairfield County only goes until 1799 and Middlesex County is only 1786-1797. For what’s not on FamilySearch, they are mostly on site at the Connecticut State LIbrary

      1. Reading your reply AFTER confronting again this weekend the Guilford Paine – Sarah (Cummings) Hathaway – Dudley Hathaway triangle of the 1790s in Freetown. (SC & DH m. 1792, then SCH “late wife of D” m. GP in late 1797, with DH m. a cousin in 1800.) Where would I find divorce records in Bristol County? General Sessions or Probate courts? Separate entity, or perhaps it all had to go through the Mass. Legislature as a private bill? Would Helen know?

        Thanks for the CT link. I do believe I have a divorce on the paternal side of cousins in Fairfield that I need to look up. Mine are all in Middlesex county, Mass.!

        1. From 1782-1886 the Supreme Judicial Court had jurisdiction over all divorces. Records from 1782-1796 are under Suffolk County files, and afterwards under the given county.

          So from 1782-1796 try – https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/301381?availability=Family%20History%20Library [there are some other collections if you go specifically to Suffolk County court records]

          1797 onward try – https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/303627?availability=Family%20History%20Library

  4. Great article with sources new to me. Look forward to having access to locked FamilySearch records again when COVID safety protocols permit it!

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