Life expectancy in earlier times certainly was not what it is today; the women often died in childbirth, the men in war and other occupational hazards, and disease took the lives of many. So remarriage was common for both men and women. Several marriage-specific questions were asked in the census over time, but one question, in particular, focused on multiple marriages.
In the 1910 and 1920 census years, as part of the marital status question, asking "Is the person single, married, widowed, or divorced?," those persons in their second or subsequent marriage were asked to identify their present marriage by number: "M1" for married persons in their first marriage, and "M2" for married persons in their second marriage, etc. If the current marriage numbers 2 or more, this at least suggests the existence of another marriage record. And it is important to research all records for all marriages -- information contained in one record may be not be available elsewhere: maiden names, parent names, birth dates, etc.
Other marriage-related questions may also be of help by comparing a couple's marriage date to the birth dates of children listed in the household; and as pertains to relationships, the presence of step-children also indicates a subsequent marriage. And where a couple is asked to give their age at first marriage, once you calculate the dates, if marriage year for the husband and wife do not coincide, it may suggest there was another marriage.
It is important to keep in mind that not all questions were asked of all persons at a given point in time: race did play an issue during certain time periods. The information presented here applies to questions asked of the general population at the time a particular census was taken.
While it is sometimes difficult for researchers to pull together specific information from one census to the next, examining a particular type of question in isolation across provides a focus that allows insight into details that might be overlooked, especially when compared across census years.
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