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.