Secret Wedding for Zula Fisher & Earl Ley?
There are certain major checkboxes in the Genealogy-by-numbers game. Birth and death are the bookends. And, if a particular branch should bear fruit, marriage the node not-quite-in-between.
Know those dates and you’ve got the basic sketch of a life’s trajectory. But what’s behind a date? Pair it with a location and you start to have a story.
We’re born where our parents’ lives began to blossom, sometimes in the stomping grounds of previous generations, often in a new place, with new possibilities.
We pass away at the terminus of a hopefully long journey, the many bends and dips and peaks along the way often not documented as boldly, yet significant in their bearing on life’s course.
The place we’re married, now, that can be a waypoint with ties to our youth, the places where parents raised us; or to the place where we fell in love, got our starts; or even someplace random or dreamy in its romance, significant unto itself.
And of course the stories get deeper beyond mere dates and places. It’s more than mere rite of passage. A party, a reunion — and union — of relatives (some sober, some significantly less so), a crossing of a particular threshold, an adult declaration of commitment.
Yeah, I bet there’s a lot of stories tucked in there.
In my research, dutifully documenting these dates of significance for relatives on various branches of the tree, for those in Ohio in the early decades of the 20th century a particular place dots biographical records enough it begins to coalesce into an arrow pointing to … West Virginia. Specifically, Ohio and Brooke counties.
Today, we’ll take a look at Wellsburg, W. Va., county seat of Brooke, and an occasion in summer, 1917.
Wellsburg, ‘Gretna Green’ to Ohio, Pennsylvania Elopements
The official record reads that Robert Earl Ley and Zula Lucrece Fisher were married June 27, 1917. The place, with a little more digging, is Wellsburg, W. Va.
But the newspaper announcement of their marriage — and the timing some six months later — reveals a bit more.
From the New Philadelphia, Ohio, Daily Times, Dec. 19, 1917:
Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Fisher announces the marriage of their daughter, Mary Zula Lucrece Fisher to Liet. Dr. Robert Earl Ley, son of former County Treasurer Charles Ley and Mrs Ley of East avenue. The marriage took place at Wellsburg, W. Va. June 27, 1917.
Dr. and Mrs. Ley wil spend their Christmas vacation in the East, after visiting relatives and college friends of Dr. Ley’s in Cleveland. They will be the honored guests at several social events while in Cleveland.
Mrs. Ley is a graduate of the New Philadelphia high school in the class of 1932. During the past two years has been teaching in the Dover schools.
Dr. Ley, is a graduate of Western Reserve Dental college and for the past year and half has been practicing in Dover.
Both Dr. and Mrs. Ley have a host of friends and relatives in New Philadelphia and Dover, and the announcement of their wedding will come as a surprise.
“The announcement of their wedding will come as a surprise,” OK! And to their friends in two cities at that. OK!
Also significant in the timing is that it’s not just six months after their nuptials, it’s just about nine months exactly before the birth of their son, my grandpa, Robert Earl Jr., Sept. 30, 1918.
I am sure there are some stories in those intervals of six and nine months, respectively. The story of Wellsburg, though, is documented in a number of places.
Wellsburg served as a famous “Gretna Green” in the U.S. for its fortuitous lack of a waiting period before marriage. Thousands of couples each year crossed from Ohio and Pennsylvania to wed. As surrounding communities enacted longer waiting periods before couples could tie the knot, the flood increased — more than 4,000 couples were married before Christmas Day in 1933; the annual tide swelled to 10,000 by 1936. In 1937, the county responded to pressure from parents in Pittsburgh, among other municipalities, and toughened its laws.
So, Great-Grandma and -Grandpa were products of the time. But as it turns out, there’s another twist to this story.
Fisher Sisters Tie Knot on Same Day?
June 27, 1917 was a Wednesday. Wellsburg was a little over an hour away — 65 miles — down present-day 250E and 22E toward Pittsburgh.
Did 23-year-old dentist Earl and 21-year-old teacher Zula sneak off on a weekday alone to get hitched? As it turns out, probably they did not.
Although I could find no newspaper announcing the wedding of Zula’s younger sister, then 19-year-old Alverna, and 21-year-old Olin Abbuhl, family records on Ancestry.com all reported the same marriage day for the siblings. Curious. And could be wrong.
But diving for the actual records reveals this: at the top of page 238 in the Brooke County wedding registry you’ll see Earl and Zula; at the bottom of page 241 you’ll find Olin and Alverna. Although they recorded Earl’s age as a year older than he really was, only the inaccuracy for Alverna bears any legal implications. At 19, she fell two years short of the age requirements — though there was no checking. So the license records her age as 21.
The lack of a wedding announcement for Olin and Alverna — even their obituaries in 1962 and 1977 do not report their wedding date — leaves several possibilities. Were both sisters wed in secret? Were Olin and Alverna wed officially, with Earl and Zula deciding in the moment to also tie the knot? Not likely, due to Alverna’s (actual) age.
We don’t know the exact details now. But the facts of date and place certainly tell an interesting story.