People often got married by calculation 100 years ago. They had their reasons, of course, it wasn’t plain greediness, but such unions rarely were happy. And people realized they would be trapped with someone they felt nothing (if they were lucky) for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, my ancestors were such a couple, so let me share their wedding story with you. It’s about love and loathing, the given word, and the prohibition on divorce.
My great grandparents were Ukrainians. Great grandpa Daniel (1881-1961) and great grandma Anna (1891-1971). They got married not out of love but out of calculation and due to a misunderstanding. That’s actually a very sad and tragic story.
Great grandma Anna was a young maiden, maybe 16 or even younger. She had a boyfriend and was in love with him, they were planning their wedding. But Anna’s parents knew nothing about the boy because her father was very strict and didn’t want her dating yet. She didn’t dare tell him about her fiance-to-be. One day, Anna and her young man (unfortunately, we know nearly nothing about him, not even his name, only that his family had money, so he was a desired groom) decided that it was time for him to ask her parents for her hand in marriage. They set the date in two weeks.
Anna’s family also was rich. They had many acres of land in the floodplain of the Dnieper river, the biggest river in Ukraine. And they earned not bad money from selling hay, as every homestead at the time had cattle, horses, sheep, etc. It was a profitable business in the 19th century. In Ukraine, it was traditional to give dowry when daughters got married, and so Anna was a desired bride because everybody knew she would get a few acres of land as a wedding gift from her father.
And this land was really tempting for Daniel who was poor and didn’t have any capital. He fully understood that Anna won’t be single and available for long. So, he talked with Anna’s brothers, possibly bought booze, and convinced them to help him marry her. I don’t know for sure but there were some land deals involved, maybe he agreed to get a smaller dowry so that brothers could inherit more land in the end. Anyway, the brothers agreed to help him and convinced their father that Anna needs to get married as soon as possible in order to not become a spinster (which was a feared and shameful fate for any woman). At the end of the 19th – the beginning of the 20th century, people got married young, especially females, a 21-year-old girl would be considered a spinster already.
When Daniel brought a matchmaker and a number of relatives/friends to ask for Anna’s hand in marriage, her parents – who didn’t know she had a boyfriend and was planning on an engagement – agreed to the marriage with Daniel without even asking her if she wanted it. The two families switched bread, as Ukrainian wedding tradition dictated, and the engagement was official. And when Daniel left, Anna told her parents about her planned engagement with another young man. He was to come and pop the question the next weekend. But it was too late. Her father said, “Why didn’t you tell me about your lad? I would have said No to Daniel. But now, I gave my word, so you will marry him”. And the wedding between Daniel and Anna was celebrated soon.
Unfortunately, I don’t have Daniel and Anna’s wedding photos or even images of them when they were young. These two old photographs are the only portraits of my great grandparents, and they are of respectable age here
Of course, there was no love between them. He married her to get a good dowry and she didn’t even have a choice. She loved the man with whom she couldn’t be anymore. The newlyweds sold the land they got as dowry and bought a watermill (or rather 1 wheel of a 3-wheeled watermill). Three young families and friends bought this watermill together, each got a wheel, and they made a good business out of it in the 1920s. Until the Soviet Union appropriated the mill around 1927 and it burned down several years later. But these 3 families remained connected by friendship and even marital ties – two of them are my ancestors, as their children got wed.
Daniel and Anna lived for over 50 years together until he died in 1961. They had 8 kids, 5 of them survived through childhood (4 sons and 1 daughter). The first 3 sons, including twins, died little. But the life of this couple never was happy and contented. They never fell in love with each other. Daniel got a mistress, and Anna always said he didn’t deserve her, beautiful, hardworking, and agile as she was. But at the same time, they respected each other as much as they could in this situation. Divorces weren’t legal in Ukraine in the early 19th century, and even if they were, it was considered a shame to leave your spouse. So they stayed together for their kids and the family. My great grandma Anna lived for 100 years, and she always said how she wished a divorce was an available option for her.
It’s tragic that these two people ruined their love life, but this wedding story can be a lesson to those who decide to marry someone for money and not out of love. You might become rich and famous but in the end, you might be left dreaming about love and happiness with a person who understands and adores you. Besides, you can lose money very quickly, and what will you be left with then? Think very carefully before you marry someone. Even though we have legal divorces today, it’s not the most pleasant thing for a couple.