Marrying the Next-Door Neighbor 130 Years Ago
Whenever you find your ancestor in the census, scan a few houses around them for familiar surnames. You might be surprised by what you find.
My great-great-grandfather, John B.M. Lovejoy, married Cora Tucker in 1882. They had a son in 1884, but two years later, Cora died at age 22, leaving John widowed with an infant son.
Just four years later, he remarried — to my great-great-grandmother, Ida Keene. They raised his son along with four children of their own. They even named their oldest daughter after John’s first wife: Cora. Their youngest child was my great-grandmother, Glennys, who died in 2004. When she died, I was 3 years old. She was 97.
But what I didn’t know was how John and Ida met. My Dad took me to the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston when I was 12 and just getting into genealogy research. They helped me look for something I didn’t know to look for in the census.
In the 1880 Census, John lived at home with his family in Chesterville, Maine (population: 955). He was 25, a carriage maker, and single.
The researchers at NEHGS suggested I look at the other families on the page — John’s neighbors — and scan for any familiar names. Within seconds, I saw it. In 1880, John and Ida were neighbors! John was 25, Ida was 12, and they lived just three houses away from each other. My 12-year-old self was elated (and I still am a decade later).
So, the story goes like this: In 1882, 27-year-old John left home and his 14-year-old neighbor Ida Keene to marry Cora Tucker in nearby New Sharon, ME. When she suddenly passed away, John returned to Chesterville with his infant son and married his childhood acquaintance: 22-year-old Ida Keene from three houses down.
Thanks to the experts at NEHGS, I found the embers of a great story imbedded in the census, and learned a professional tip I’ve used ever since. I’ve always wondered how John and Ida met for the first time. What might’ve been the story of John coming back and asking his childhood friend to marry him? Maybe it was black-and-white, but I like to think it was a happy union of two old friends.
Tip: Whenever you find your ancestor in the census, scan a few houses around them for familiar surnames, even flip through the pages. Family and friends often lived close to each other — you never know what you might find!
Jack Palmer is a History and Psychology double-major at Duke University. I’ve done genealogy research since I was 10 and love writing about it for family, friends, and anybody else who might enjoy a blast from the past.
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