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My Grandmother’s Divorce

Wyoming State Archives website

Wyoming State Archives

I work­ing to declut­ter my home and put valu­able and rare genealog­i­cal doc­u­ments in order. In this process, I have been going through some, until now, neglected doc­u­ments that were passed down to me, and find­ing some surprises.

I had been think­ing about see­ing what I could do about get­ting my grand­mother Helen Harris’s divorce papers from the Wyoming State Archives. Divorce records are avail­able 50 years after the date of the event, if you can pro­vide enough detail to locate the records. Of course, I would have the names of both the par­ties (F. Ralph Harris and Helen Hill Harris), though I would not have known who the plain­tiff was and who the defen­dant was. I did know the rough time­frame (some time between 1941 and 1947).

However, I know all of this infor­ma­tion now, as I may have more doc­u­men­ta­tion on the divorce than the state of Wyoming does. I cer­tainly have dif­fer­ent doc­u­men­ta­tion: In addi­tion to the signed divorce peti­tion and decree, and the prop­erty set­tle­ment and child cus­tody agree­ment, I have the let­ters sent to my grand­mother from her attorney.

Here is a tran­scrip­tion of the decree of divorce.






The above enti­tled mat­ter com­ing on reg­u­larly to he heard upon the Petition of F. Ralph Harris, the Plaintiff above named, to which an Answer has been filed by Helen Hill Harris, the Defendant above named, and the said F. Ralph Harris being present in Court in per­son and by his attor­ney and said Helen Hill Harris, the Defendant above named, being rep­re­sented by R. G. Diefenderfer, Esq., her attor­ney, and said Plaintiff hav­ing been put to strict proof the Court finds that each and every alle­ga­tion in Plaintiff’s peti­tion con­tained is true and that the prayer thereof should be allowed.

The Court fur­ther finds that on or about the 17th day of June, 1943, the par­ties hereto entered into a Property Settlement and Child Custody Agreement and that said Property Settlement and Child Custody Agreement should be made part of this Decree.

IT IS, THEREFORE, HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that F. Ralph Harris, the Plaintiff above named, be and his is hereby granted an absolute decree of divorce from Helen Hill Harris, the Defendant above named.

IT IS FURTHER HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that that cer­tain Property Settlement and Child Custody Agreement made and entered into upon the 17th day of June, 1943, a copy thereof being attached to Plaintiff’s Petition, be and the same is hereby made a part of this Decree.

DONE IN OPEN COURT on this the 11th day of February, 1946.

James H. Burgess

Approved as to form

As I said, there is also the cor­re­spon­dence between R. G. Diefenderfer and my grand­mother, or at least his side of it. Additionally, the doc­u­ments include a dual nota­rized copy of the Property Settlement and Child Custody Agreement.

The let­ters from the attor­ney to my grand­mother con­tain some notable moments. They begin on August 9, 1945, with:

Dear Mrs. Harris:

Your let­ter of August 7th was at hand this morn­ing and I note that you will not accede to your husband’s desire that your ring be returned to him. I will gov­ern myself accordingly.

Later in the let­ter we see ref­er­ences to the attor­ney hav­ing seen Mrs. Harris “when I last talked with you at your apart­ment.” She was claim­ing pay­ment was due per the agreed set­tle­ment. He noted that the due date was the 10th, and advised her thus: “you must keep your hus­band advised of your address and if you have not already done so, please inform him thereof at once.” She was now liv­ing at 312 7th Avenue, Spencer Park, Hastings, Nebraska, and the attor­ney and her hus­band remained in Sheridan, Wyoming.

On September 25, 1945, there is this:

Dear Mrs. Harris:

Your recent let­ters have remained unan­swered because I have been extremely busy in the trial of cases. However, I con­tacted Mr. Garbutt yes­ter­day morn­ing and he will hand to me a copy of your husband’s Petition and of the Summons.

What I do not have in F. Ralph Harris’s peti­tion for divorce. This may or may not be with the divorce papers, but now that I have the exact date of the divorce, and know who the plain­tiff and defen­dant are, get­ting these doc­u­ments should be simple.

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