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Overheard in GenForum: Epperson and Hopkins Marriage in Alabama
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

December 09, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I am trying to find records of Amos Epperson and Ida Belle Hopkins (my grandparents) marriage. I believe they were married in Shelby or Talladega County, Alabama. The year should be 1910-1918. If you can help, please respond. I will appreciate any info. -- Gloria

A: You already have some important information. You have an estimated time that the event took place and you also have an approximate location. One way to locate marriage records would be to contact the county clerks in those counties and request that they do a search of their marriage records for the marriage in question. And while many people do this, I suggest writing to them only once you have more information. Whenever you contact a county clerk or town hall, it is important to be able to supply them with as much information as possible. Complete names (which you have), an exact date of the event, and the place where they event took place.

Such details in a letter are important as the more you can supply them with the easier the search will be on their end and the more likely you are to receive positive results. Unlike you and I, the county clerk is not obsessed with finding your ancestor for you. They will do a quick search of the index to the records and if they do not find what you want, they will tell you so. Many times county clerks will only search a set number of years, usually five. So it is important to be within their acceptable range. Right now, the information you have is a little iffy in the date department. However, there are ways to narrow that down.

When contacting county clerks it is important to be as precise as possible as this increases your chances of receiving the record you requested.

Records to Narrow the Time Frame

Because of the time frame you mentioned, a search of the soundex to the 1920 census for the state of Alabama would be an excellent place to begin your search. You would look in the soundex under the surname EPPERSON, which would be soundex coded as E162. For help in coding your surnames for using in Soundex, you can visit RootsWeb's Surname to Soundex Code.

A search in the 1920 Soundex for Alabama revealed the following family living in Shelby County:

  • Epperson, Amos M. (age 26, born in Alabama)
  • Epperson, Ida B. (wife, age 32, born Alabama)
  • Epperson, Jewell O. (dau, age 4 1/12, born Alabama)
  • Epperson, Vera (day, age 7/12, born Alabama)

I encourage you to locate this family in the actual census records. They can be found in Shelby County, Alabama in E.D. 117, on Sheet 20, Line 23. Additional information about his occupation and where their parents were born will be found on the census sheet itself.

Understanding What We Now Know

Armed with the information found on the census soundex card, we can modify your working supposition. While you can't always assume, you can begin your search in a more narrow time frame based on the ages of the individuals and the ages of the children.

Because daughter Jewell is 4 years and one month old, it is more than likely that Amos and Ida Belle were married prior to her birth. This takes that latest year of the marriage from 1918 to about 1916 (and that actually puts it a little after Jewell's birth, but it is easier to round off when dealing with years).

Another interesting factor is the age of Amos. He is listed as being 26 in 1920. That means he was only 16 in 1910. While it is possible that he married at this young age, it seems a little unlikely. So, you can narrow the starting year from 1910 to about 1912. Amos would have been 18 at that time.

Working Hypothesis

What we have done at this point is to take your working hypothesis and modify it based on newly discovered information. While it may be necessary later on to reevaluate that hypothesis again after looking through the actual marriage records, you can now see how looking in other records can affect what you know and how you approach the research as the new information comes to light.

One final adjustment to the hypothesis is that you can now rate Shelby County a little higher than Talladega as far as where the marriage took place. You may still need to search both counties, but based on the fact that they were living in Shelby County, generally that is the place you will begin your search. Of course, if you know something additional, such as Ida Belle was born in Talladega County, then this would alter the order in which you searched the counties.

Record Availability

If you are working in an area that you are not familiar with, it is important to learn what records are available through the county courthouse and what time periods they cover. One way to do this is through Elizabeth Petty Bentley's County Courthouse Book. This book is available on CD-ROM through Genealogical Publishing Company as part of the All-In-One Address Book CD.

Once you know what records are available, the next step is to see if the records you need have been microfilmed. If you can order the necessary records through your local Family History Center, you have accomplished two things:

  1. You can say with assuredness that you have exhausted all possible years and variant spellings for the surnames in question.

  2. You help to preserve the original records by not requiring they be searched instead of the microfilms.

In your case, both Shelby County and Talladega County are well represented in the Family History Library. Their marriage records on microfilm go well into the 20th century, and cover the years you are interested in.

For Shelby County, the films are:

  • Marriages 1904-1914 - Film #1571847
  • Marriages 1914 - Film #1571848, item 1
  • Marriages 1914-1923 - Film #1571848, item 2-3

For Talladega County, the films are:

  • Marriages 1907-1910 - Film #1639302, item 2
  • Marriages 1910-1911 - Film #1639302, item 3
  • Marriages 1911-1912 - Film #1639303, item 1
  • Marriages 1912-1914 - Film #1639303, item 2
  • Marriages 1914-1917 - Film #1639303, item 3
  • Marriages 1917-1921 - Film #1639304, item 1

The above looks like a lot of films, but really they are multiple items on only five reels of films, and considering the working hypothesis narrows your search down to three films.

In Conclusion

In searching for this marriage, it did actually turn up in Talladega County, which may mean that is where Ida Belle was living. Amos Epperson and Ida Hopkins were married on 11 April 1914 in what appears to be Sylacauga, Alabama. This marriage license can be found on page 172 in Volume N (1912-1914) of the marriage records for Talladega County (which is found on Family History Library microfilm #1639303, item 2).

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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