My current read is a lovely book, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. It is a story of a woman's life in 19th century China: the retelling of her memories from childhood through her elder years. I have found the book both charming and fascinating as my eyes have been opened to Chinese customs of marriage and friendship: a culture so distinctively different than my own.

Marriages in China, at least during the time period of the book, were prearranged at an early age. Love and romance had little relevance in a world that devalued women and whose worth rested solely on their ability to bear sons. Completely subservient to their husbands, Chinese women formed sisterhoods or "sworn sisters" and "old sames" that provided the emotional support they craved from loveless marriages. Yet, as years passed, bonds between wives and husbands sometimes bloomed into deeper, more romantic love.

Romance, courtship and the dance between men and women called marriage are deeply ingrained within our cultures. From medieval times when courting rituals evolved into chivalry to the Victorian Era of elaborate formalities, pre-marriage customs have shifted, changed and adapted through the centuries.

Each of our ancestors brought courtship customs from the old country and though different than Chinese customs, our pioneer ancestors often married for utilitarian reasons: finding a strong, young and hardy wife to bear children to help with the farm. But as with many of the Chinese couples, our ancestor's marriages most certainly grew into mutual love.

The month of February is a perfect time to delve deeper into the marriage bond of our ancestors. Exploring their story by looking at how they must have met. If you examine census records closely, you will often find families living as neighbors before your ancestors married. Location, cultural similarities and church affiliation were the springboards to binding couples in marriage--much different than today's society.

And here is something fun to explore: examine the date of your ancestor's marriages. Can you find any who married during the month of February? Valentine's Day was a popular holiday for weddings. If you land such a discovery the narrative can be a sweet addition to your ancestral tree.

Use the opportunity of this Valentine's Day to explore the customs of love and marriage of your ancestors and look for clues of their romance. It will give you a deeper understanding of their bonds for each other and a valuable tool to pen their story.

Keep searching for answers,