Let's face it, some families are difficult to reconstruct and identify. I had one uncle who reportedly had eight wives and he wasn't a polygamist. Deaths, divorces, liaisons and more can make for complicated genealogy. The Springthorpe family that I have been pursuing lately is no exception. The first Springthorpe in my line, Adeline Springthorpe (b. 1826, d. 1891) had two husbands. One died in England before she came to America and the other she married after she arrived. Her second husband and my ancestor, David Thomas (b. 1820, d. 1888) had three wives; one that died before he came to America with his four children, and two more in America, both at the same time. He was a polygamist.
When you encounter this type of situation, or one much more complicated, it may be all you can do to identify which children go with which father and which mother. In the case of larger families in my line, where the husband had five or more wives, this can be a daunting task. Two of my male ancestors each had twenty-three children and and one had seventeen.
In this situation, you just have to bite the bullet and get to work sorting out birth dates and places. Depending on the time depth of the family, this may be relatively easy or impossible. Things can get even more complicated when your ancestor "adopts" children, either those of current wife or husband or others that are entirely unrelated until the adoption. If your family were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you may also be faced with situations where unrelated people may be listed as "wives" of deceased ancestors but only through a process of marriage ordinances performed in the Church's Temples after the woman had died.
Even without this type of complication, you may encounter multiple generations of men with the same exact name and sorting out which one was married to which wife can also be a difficult task. In my own lines, I find this has caused many of the ancestors to be listed with as many as twelve or fourteen different wives depending on which researcher you follow. Previous to online family trees, you may never have discovered all of the conflicting wives.
All of this becomes even more complicated, if you cannot identify the maiden name of the wife. But sorting out these situations is at the core of accurately identifying a family.
OK, back to the Springthorpes and Adeline and her husband David Thomas. Right now, I have five different marriage dates for this marriage from 1843 to 1871 listed in FamilySearch.org's Family Tree. One of these is from my records. So do I choose my own date automatically? Not unless I show a valid source for the date. I suggest starting the process of sorting out multiple wives and/or husbands by identifying at least one marriage with some certainty. It also helps to look at the listed dates of birth of each of the children.
It is also important to recognize that many states and countries legally recognize so-called common law marriages, where no formal marriage ceremony took place, but the spouses lived as man and wife.
In the Thomas family, the 1843 date is rejected because it dates to when both David and Adeline were in England and family records show that they were both widowed when they met coming to America. So that leaves dates after 1862, the supposed date of their arrival in America. Family Tree also has many more children listed for David and Adeline than I have in my own research. So we have some challenges. But the first child that I have listed in my records was born in 1864, thus ruling out the 1871 marriage date. In my own case, the places listed for the marriages are also significant; the date in 1862 in Family Tree has Nephi, Juab, Utah as the place of the marriage. While the later dates either have no place listed or list Salt Lake City, Utah. The latest date, 1871, in Salt Lake City, was likely an LDS Temple sealing date not the original marriage.
All of these dates need to be verified and either accepted or rejected. Some, such as the date in 1843 predates all of David Thomas' children and since we know he had a wife in England, I can suppose that this earlier date may correspond to the first marriage. Now which one to choose or none of them?
Guess what? I copied my own information from old Family Group Records. Too bad, I have to do some basic research at this late date in my life! Before I am roundly condemned because of my lack of basic sources, you need to understand that I was looking at records compiled by this couple's children who knew their parents' wedding date.
So, where would I look for some confirmation of the marriage date in my files? Unfortunately, the date of 1862 puts this event way before any civil records were kept of marriages in Utah Territory or State. My next best source would be Church records. None of these seem to be online. I might also look at several online family trees to see if anyone else has found any marriage date evidence. If they were married in Nephi, Juab, Utah as my records show, then I might find some records in the county or city.
Time to go search and see what I find.