Gram Goes to Gretna Green

By J. L. Starkey

I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who,

I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel.

-Lydia Bennett, Pride and Prejudice

It’s always been one of my favorite family legends. My awesome Gram didn’t have a big fancy church wedding. Instead, she and my grandfather [gasp] eloped!

So the story went, my grandparents went to a Justice of the Peace, got married, and then went home, with neither of them telling their parents or siblings what they had just done [1]. Later, my great-grandmother Gertie Hansen asked Gram to run to the store for a loaf of bread, just like she would have done on any other Saturday in the mid-1930s.

But instead of heading to the store, Gram burst into tears.

“I just got married!” she cried. “And you want me to go to the store?”

If Gertie acted scandalized, it was probably just that: an act. Years later, I would discover that in December 1908, she and my great-grandfather had also eloped – in the very same town as my grandparents [2]!

Scandalized by her daughter’s elopement? Not so fast! [ image]

They were hardly alone in their actions; in the early 1900s, Gretna Green marriages were pretty common for Chicago residents, given the city’s regulations around who could get married, and when [3].

My great-grandparents’ marriage in Porter County, Indiana [FamilySearch image]

My grandparents’ marriage, also in Porter County, Indiana [FamilySearch image]

Both “quickie” marriages lasted ’til death did they part (which kind of gives lie to the theory that these marriages are destined to fail, doesn’t it?). My great-grandparents were married until my great-grandfather Charles Hansen died of lung cancer in July 1930. My grandparents were married until my grandfather Michael Reedy died (also of lung cancer) thirty years later, in July 1960 [4].

The story of my grandparents’ marriage has been told (and retold) many times, but I always wanted to know more about what they looked like all those years ago. Had it not been for Gertie Hansen’s quick planning and socialite ways, I might have never known that.

But I do know, and thanks to the generosity of my second cousin, I have the pictures to prove it!

That said, these photos aren’t your typical favorites. Far from it, actually.

In fact, they were hiding a clue that might help solve a family mystery.

Michael and Mary and the Wedding that Wasn’t

One of only two photos from my grandparents’ reception…or was it?
[Family photo collection]

My grandparents didn’t have a traditional wedding, but Gertie Hansen never let the little details stop her from throwing a party. You may recall that Gertie’s electricity was disconnected for nonpayment on the very day of her hard times party. Undaunted, she simply told her guests that she left the lights off on purpose, to give the party a true “hard times” feel.

In short, Gertie was no amateur. After learning of her daughter’s elopement, she had a wedding reception to plan, complete with cake, and photos, and a bride and groom figurine, and – well, everything.

I had seen a grand total of two photos from that reception (both fairly blurry and overexposed), and sadly, there were no others in existence.

Or so we thought, until I received a message from my second cousin in early 2020.

“I found what I believe to be wedding portraits that my uncle had buried in a collection of photos,” his message began. “He believes it to be Mary & Michael…they look like the 1936 picture in their [Ancestry] Gallery. They are standing in back of a table with candles on the sides of a centerpiece of bride & groom figures.”

Could it be? Fingers crossed, I messaged back quickly.

Lost no more: My grandparents’ “official” wedding photo [Family photo collection]

My cousin was correct! The photos were indeed from my grandparents’ wedding reception. The “official” wedding photo was much clearer than the other two I had seen, but the group photo was a bit blurred on one side. Still, mom knew right away who the “attendants” were, and I’m trying to track down their descendants to share this fascinating bit of history with them.

“The wedding party that wasn’t” [Family photo collection]

But I didn’t stop there. These photos were family treasures, and as such, they deserved a makeover to remove the ravages of time. Thanks to The Photo Alchemist, they received just that, and just in time for Christmas!

As I marveled at the restored reception photos, I zoomed in on Gram’s face.

Restored wedding party photo

Restored and colorized wedding party photo

“Who does she look like?” I asked my husband. “I think she looks so much like – oh my goodness – do you see that?”

Maybe it was a camera issue, or maybe the lighting was off a bit. Yes, maybe it was just that.

Still, the turn of Gram’s eye, though very slight, was definitely there…wasn’t it?

Restored and colorized wedding portrait

Gram and the Genetic Lottery

Gram’s grandfather, William Everett Baugh [Family photo collection]

Was it true? Did Gram inherit “the family curse” from her grandfather, William Everett Baugh? If she did, I never heard her mention it, so maybe the photos were simply taken at the wrong angle.

Still, camera angles didn’t explain that slight eye misalignment (and the obvious squint) in the photos.

If Gram did inherit the family’s vision issues, her case may have been so mild that it was never detected or treated, and she may have unknowingly compensated for it in subtle ways. She may have tilted her head at an angle to see a bit better, or (surprise!) she may have had a slight squint in her affected eye [5]. She may have also experienced headaches, blurry vision, or even double vision.

Unfortunately, this is one family history mystery that hasn’t been solved. Not yet, anyway.

Challenge accepted, Gram. Thanks for keeping me guessing, as always!


  1. “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2019”, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 7 April 2021), Michael J Reedy, 1935.
  2. “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 10 December 2017), Charles H Hansen and Gertrude V Baugh, 05 Dec 1908; citing Porter, Indiana, United States, Marriage Registration, Indiana Commission on Public Records, Indianapolis; FHL Film 005014498. [See also: “Additional Locals,” Suburbanite Economist, Chicago, Illinois, 1 Jan 1909, p. 4, col. 5. Retrieved 25 Mar 2017 from]
  3. “Gretna Green,” Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, 14 Mar 1917, p. 7, col. 2. Retrieved 21 Jan 2022 from [See also: “Now Valparaiso Bids For Fame As Gretna Green,” Chicago Tribune, 3 Mar 1926, p. 15, col. 2-4. Retrieved 20 Jan 2022 from; and Mitchell, Dawn. “Indiana Was a Scandalous Marriage Mill and Valentino Took Advantage.” The Indianapolis Star, IndyStar, 4 July 2019,]
  4. “Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947,” database, FamilySearch ( : 10 March 2018), Charles Hansen, 07 Jul 1930; Public Board of Health, Archives, Springfield; FHL microfilm 1,892,492. [See also: “Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1871-1998,” database, FamilySearch ( : 17 March 2020), Michael J Reedy, 29 Jul 1960; citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, source reference , record number , Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm]
  5. Strabismus (crossed eyes).” (n.d.). Retrieved 20 Jan 2022 from [See also: Colino, Stacey. “Six Health Problems Your Child May Inherit from You.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2009,]

4 thoughts on “Gram Goes to Gretna Green

Add yours

  1. I just recently learned that term from an NGS magazine (Gretna green). My grandparents didn’t exactly elope, as my grandma’s mother was there, but it seems that Colfax, Washington, served as a Gretna green for people in Idaho. I don’t know enough about the laws of the time to know why that was, but probably some sort of waiting period.

    That is astonishing that you turned up another possible case of the “family curse”! That is a lovely collection of photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Colfax is where my much-married distant cousin Eugene Clairmont Fisher had a few of his many weddings! He was raised in Palouse, so it was convenient, I suppose? He also married in a few Idaho counties when he just couldn’t wait the required # of days after his last divorce was finalized. Eugene needs his own reality show.

      Liked by 1 person

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