I have been going through the British Newspapers from 1600 to 1900. The State Library has access to the British Newspaper collection so long as you have a readers card. This means that I can search those News Papers for free. They are a fantastic resource.
One thing that I picked up over the weekend was a notice from Robert Gransden saying that his wife Mary Ann Gransden was no longer living with him and that he would no longer be responsble for her debts. This was in the mid nineteenth century. At this time there was no real viable option for divorce. So this was a couples way of making it clear that they were no longer together and that they were only responsible for themselves. This went very well for families where this worked for both partners but if for some reason one partner was happy with this and the other partner was not it could be a big issue. Particularly if the male decided that he wanted his wifes property as for a long time women had no rights to their own property they were subject to their husbands will so if a woman left the man was within his rights to turn up later and take anything that she had earned or owned as his own.
This website gives a good overview to what divorce and or seperation meant for both men and women in the nineteenth century http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/agunn/teaching/enl3251/vf/pres/hurvitz.htm
When a couple wanted a divorce all of the advantages if any were for the men and all of the disadvantages were for the women and children. A divorce would also mean that children were declared illegitemate. Women needed to be able to prove adultury plus abuse at quite an extensive level. A man need only acuse a woman of adultury.
This meant that finding an actual decleration that a couple were seperated was quite a find.
I had known that Mary had not died until after the 1861 census but had not been able to find her in the 1861 census. I had gone looking a bit further but had never found her so had just assumed that she had not participated in the census for whatever reason that year. All the rest of her family had been present at that census and missing someone is not actually that unusual. However now knowing that Robert and Mary had seperated and after talking to another family members who had said that she had found Mary on the 1861 census I went looking. Finally I found her. Mary was living in a housing estate nearby and was working as the Principal at a local school. This means that Mary was independant and at least reasonably well educated. Finding this is quite a departure of my understanding of the education level and the background of this family so it is a very welcome and interesting addition to my family tree.