About My Ancestors · Newspaper Research

That’s Old News: Can National Events Affect A Marriage?

I’ve been doing alot of newspaper research later…I mean ALOT!  I don’t think any type of research I’ve done in the last year or so has been as rewarding as searching newspapers online.  The ability to find relatives through keyword searches opens up a whole world of stories beyond birth, death, and marriage records.

I decided to look for a marriage license announcement in the Oakland Tribune (published in Oakland, Alameda County, California) for my Grandparents, John Pacheco Smith and Anna Jackson.  I knew when they were married and I have the marriage certificate, but I wanted to see if they had the event published in the newspaper.

I couldn’t find them by name (Smith?  Jackson? Gee, I wonder why??!!?!)  So, I went to the exact date of the wedding and worked backwards.

jacksonsmithmarroaktrib26oct192923b2The marriage license was issued somewhere around 26 Oct 1929.  My Grandparents were married on the 26th at St. Anthony’s Church in Oakland.  There were reasons for the rushy rush nature of the wedding.  My Grandma barely days into her 17th year and was just “slightly” pregnant (six months to be exact!).  She was NOT 18 as her marriage records state.

I don’t know why, but I never really scrutinized the date of their marriage until I saw this item in the newspaper.  Notice the date that this appeared in the newspaper:  26 October 1929.  Exactly three days later, 29 October, was Black Tuesday, the day the stock market crashed.  I realized that my Grandparents were trying to make a go of it just as the entire country was falling apart.

I don’t blame the Great Depression for their divorce.  There were plenty of other factors at play besides a pregnant teenager.  My Grandfather was suspected to have had some sort of undiagnosed mental illnesses and alcoholism seems to have played a role in their marriage as well.

Their marriage was a struggle to begin with.  They both had to work to keep food on the table and they had difficultly finding it.  They started out in Oakland but within a year or two they headed to Spreckels in Monterey County so John could go back to work on a sugar beet plantation.  Even that didn’t work out.

He eventually found work as a home gardener.  She worked at a beauty salon sweeping floors and cleaned people’s houses on the side.  He made 32 1/2 cents an hour and she made 33 1/2 cents an hour.  It infuriated my Grandfather that not only could he not support his family but his wife was making more than him.

In 1937 they were able to move back to Oakland.  From that point on things only got worse.  They held on until 1949 when the situation became unbearable for my Grandmother and their two kids.

Having said all that, I wonder if the depression starting withing days of their wedding might have doomed them anyway.  It’s reminiscent of a certain James Stewart movie only with less in their favor. Was the struggle to survive, trying to scrap together meals and keep some sort of shelter over their heads too much for them?  Was their added weight knowing everyone around you was suffering and there was really nowhere to turn?  Would things have gone better without the world crumbling around them?

I guess I’ll never know the answers to those questions.  With everything they had going against them going into the marriage, they probably didn’t have much chance anyway.  I also realize many marriages survived these tumultuous years.  Others were able to make it and survive.

It would be interesting to see the statistics for divorce and abandonment for marriages during the Great Depression.  I wonder if the numbers were even higher for those who married right before it all fell apart.  It would have been incredibly tough to keep a family together without money to put food on the table.

One thought on “That’s Old News: Can National Events Affect A Marriage?

  1. I don’t know. It seems to me that with each succeeding generation, as life gets easier (physically, at least) we lose a little more gumption. I think that, if people of today were to get married under the conditions of the past, even at a time without depression or famine or war, they would have been ill-equipped to make it work.

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