Finding Maiden Names

Unfortunately history and record keeping have not always been kind to the female population. There were times they were even considered ‘second-class’ citizens. That was not necessarily true in all ethnic or cultural groups, but in some. So it can pose a ‘tall brick wall’ to knock down locating the family name (surname) for a female ancestors.

You need to check every possible source for the woman’s birth name. Start with anything related to a marriage record. That includes a newspaper announcement, the family Bible and certainly any church records. Next try anything connected to a death notice. With that list would be newspaper obituaries, death certificates, records at the funeral home and at a cemetery. Those last two are often overlooked. At the cemetery check any inscriptions on the headstone, both sides of and note any surnames on neighboring headstones. Those names just could surface again if they were in a family plot, so keep a record.

You might not think of checking various birth records since you don’t know a maiden name. However, you can check any church records or certificates of all children born to the female ancestor. Most of the time her maiden name would be written. Also look for birth announcements in a hometown newspaper close to the time the ancestor was born. Go to the local church in the hometown to look through their baptism records to try and match a birth and a given name.

In the hometown or its county there could be a good genealogical society or museum. Do check what they have, starting with the female’s married name or just use the given name and a birth year.

Use the Federal and state census records for where the female ancestor lived as a child. If it is a small town you can go search just all those with that given name and birth year. If you find 20 matching people, then examine all the family members, including their names and occupation. If you knew this ancestor’s father worked on the railroad and you spot such an occupation, you might have a possible connection. In later censuses after the female is married, check each one. Look for an unmarried sister, a brother or father or mother of the wife living in the household. What can be of great help. Check any neighbors living nearby, again a certain name could be familiar. A reminder, many times a maiden name of the mother was given to a child as their first or second given name. Never just accept an initial for someone’s middle name, find the full name.

A husband’s probate records might have the wife’s maiden name written or in his Will. Look into any property the widow may have had, a maiden name could be on a deed.

Any available family letters, diaries, journals, needlepoint work, photos, insurance papers, passports, business records have to be investigated. Never just skim over any paper work. If you have already looked at some documents, recheck them.

If the ancestor immigrated, even after marriage, there might be a maiden name on the documents they filled out to be a citizen. It was popular at the turn of the century to join numerous ladies societies or clubs. Contacting the local social clubs like Woman’s Club, Daughters of the American Revolution or Eastern Star, their records could provide needed information.

Leave no ‘stone unturned’.  Check with fellow family researchers, share information. Every female ancestor had a family name, make it your mission to find what it was so that family branch is included on the tree.

Photo: One of my female ancestors whose maiden name might have been Manathon or Yingling, still checking. She married George S. Sherman in York, PA in 1835.

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Will Genealogy Research Change if Men Take their Wives’ Surnames? – Family Celebration 26/10/12

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