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The legal marriage

It was 97 years ago today that two skinny teenagers, both just 18, stood before a judge in Wichita County, Texas, and spoke the words that would bind them together for more than half a century.

50th anniversary, Opal and Clay Cottrell

50th anniversary, Opal and Clay Cottrell

Clay Rex Cottrell had turned 18 on the 20th of April 1916;1 Opal Robertson had turned 18 on the 21st of August.2 Each of them had lost a parent at the age of 14: Clay’s mother died in July 1912;3 Opal’s father died in March of the same year.4

They declared their love for each other all those years ago today.5 In October 1966, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary; four years later, in September 1970, Clay died. Opal described it in private notes as the worst day of her life, losing her best friend.

And the burning question is: how did Clay and Opal — my maternal grandparents — manage to get hitched, legally, on that day in October, 97 years ago today?

You see, both the Cottrells and the Robertsons were living in Tillman County, Oklahoma, in October 1916. Clay’s parents were separated, his mother had died in 1912,his father most likely was living in Alabama.6 Opal’s mother survived but disapproved of the relationship.

Neither the bride nor the groom had anyone from their families present at the wedding. The story in the family is that nobody even knew they were married until after the marriage license was published in the newspapers.

It had long been my theory that they might have run away to Texas to get married because of the law. That may still be true, but it’s going to take more research than just the statute books to be sure.

You see, I figured that Clay’s family would have been fine with the marriage but with Opal’s mother disapproving, they went to the nearest state where her consent to the marriage wouldn’t have been required.

Not so. Finally got around to checking Oklahoma and Texas law at the time and both Texas and Oklahoma wouldn’t have required Opal’s mother’s consent to the wedding — a girl at age 18 didn’t require parental consent.7

But Clay… ah, Clay. He needed parental consent. Both state statutes required parental consent for boys under the age of 21.8 And Clay couldn’t have gotten his father’s consent — I don’t think at the time he would even have known where he was living.

So… how did they pull that off? One possibility is that they convinced the county judge he knew what he was doing. Texas law allowed a judge to issue consent in cases where any minor has neither parent nor guardian — and the absentee father might have brought that into play.9 And the other possibility is that he lied about his age.

Either is possible… but more work needs to be done.

And… sigh… I sure wish either of them was still alive so I could just ask.


SOURCES

  1. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 70-026729, Clay Rex Cottrell (1970); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  2. Virginia Department of Health, Certificate of Death, state file no. 95-011808, Opal Robertson Cottrell (1995); Division of Vital Records, Richmond.
  3. Oklahoma State Department of Health, Tillman County, death certificate no. 6119, Tillman County, Mrs. M.G. Cottrell, filed 1 Aug 1912.
  4. Oklahoma State Department of Health, Tillman County, death certificate no. 3065, Tillman County, Jasper C. Robertson, filed 15 Mar 1912.
  5. Wichita County, Texas, Marriage Book 5:388, Clay Rex Cottrell and Opal Robertson (1916), marriage license and return; County Clerk’s Office, Wichita Falls.
  6. 1920 U.S. census, Geneva County, Alabama, Hartford, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 105, p. 78(B) (stamped), dwelling 176, family 184, Martin G Cottrell; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 16.
  7. See Compiled Statutes of Oklahoma (1921) Sec. 7490; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Oct 2013). That law had been the same since at least as early as 1907. And see Vernon’s Sayles’ Annotated Civil Statutes of Texas, Art. 4611 (1914); digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 15 Oct 2013).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Vernon’s Sayles’ Annotated Civil Statutes of Texas, Art. 4611 (1914).
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