Monday, March 9, 2015

All Roads in Our Family History Pass through Reno

The Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, Nevada holds several records of our family history.  I worked for Washoe County in the early 1980s and was in this building many times.  The Washoe County Courthouse helped to make Reno the "Divorce Capital of the World". This was also the place where many marriage licences were obtained by our family members.  Source: Online Encyclopedia of Nevada (Click here for more information.)

Is it coincidence or serendipity that so many events in our family history occurred in Reno, Nevada? Our little family of four resided in Reno, Nevada from 1982 to 1997.  My wife, our eldest daughter and her husband all graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno.  I completed all of the course work for the Masters program in Historic Preservation at UNR.  We have many good memories and good friends from Reno and we have continued to visit there over the years.

When I started my family history research in Reno in 1989, I began to realize that several major events in our family history occurred in Reno.  For example, I was surprised to learn that my “Gram” Elaine Coffman was married to my Grandpa George Kelly at the First United Methodist Church in Reno on the 24th of October 1937.  This was the era when Reno was known as the “Divorce Capital of the World.”   The short six week residency requirement induced many divorce seekers to temporarily relocate to the “Biggest Little City.”  They resided in guest houses and dude ranches while their divorce was processed through the Washoe County courts. 

And so it was with Gram Elaine.  Her nine year marriage to Grandpa True Mayne was on the rocks.  Elaine had been lodging across the street from the courthouse since September 1, 1937.  The decree of divorce was granted in the Washoe County Courthouse on the 16th of October 1937, exactly six weeks after Elaine arrived in Reno.  Elaine and George were married eight days later. The marriage to Grandpa George lasted over fifty years until his death.  They shared a lifelong love with each other and with Lake Tahoe.  George named his Lake Tahoe cabin cruiser, the Elaine B.

I was surprised recently to learn that my paternal grandfather, Richard Cimino was married to his second wife, Macy Lu Kimes at the same church in Reno as my maternal grandparents.  Grandpa Dick and Grandma Macy became strong adherents of the Methodist Church.  My aunt Betty Ann remembered vividly that her father and step-mother were married in the summer of 1955 because it was a year before she was married to Elson Hancock also in Reno, Nevada on 17 August 1956.  Betty Ann could not recall the exact date so another piece was needed to solve our “Ancestor Puzzle.”

My search for the 1955 marriage record of Grandpa Dick and Grandma Macy seemed to be frustrated at every turn. has a database of Nevada marriages but it did not include marriages for 1955 in Reno.  I went to the Washoe County Clerk website which claimed to have all of the marriages recorded in the county in an online database.  My search for “Cimino” in 1955 showed “0” results.  I searched for the contact information and found that the County Clerk was open until midnight on a Saturday.  It appears that they still have a lively marriage trade in Reno!  I called the number and I marveled that a live person answered and explained that their database was down for the weekend. The friendly clerk stated she would be happy to look up the date of the marriage on the microfilm and call me back.  Finally persistence seemed to have paid off.

I waited patiently until past midnight Central time for the return phone call.  The call never came.  But then I checked my phone before heading to bed and realized that the “do not disturb” function was programmed for 10 pm.  I had a missed call from the 775 area code.  Fortunately the clerk had left a message.  The date that Grandpa Dick and Grandma Macy were married was the 2nd of July 1955.  So if you are looking for a marriage record that you cannot seem to find, you might consider researching the Nevada marriage records.

For more information on the Reno divorce industry, see the following source: Mella Rothwell Harmon. Divorce and Economic Opportunity in Reno, Nevada during the Great Depression. Reno: MS thesis. University of Nevada, 1998. - See more at:  Mella was a classmate of mine at UNR and she is now a faculty member at our alma mater.

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