Not Using Married Lady's Given Names

It can be hard enough trying to research the female ancestors on the family tree, especially in the 1800s into the first half of the 20th century. It was a practice that once a woman married, from then on especially in any newspaper articles or journals / reports by organizations, she was referred to as: ‘Mrs. Henry Wilson’. It was not acceptable to use her given name such as Mary Wilson or Harriet Wilson, just the ‘Mrs.’ This practice continued even if she was a widow.

This practice of using the husband’s given and the surname was started in England and spread to America in the 1800s. Note that the English version of ‘Mrs’ is without a period, but the American version has the period ‘Mrs.”

The title “Miss” was adopted by adult women for the first time in the middle of the 18th century. Before that, Miss was only used for girls, in the way that Master is only ever (today increasingly rarely) used for boys. When the Miss was used, it was with just the surname and still no given name.

Even more unacceptable during those years was using a lady’s nickname. If her birth given name was ‘Elizabeth’ but in the family she was nicknamed ‘Liz’ or ‘Beth’ that would not be used outside the family. It can be hard enough locating a female ancestor who did use solely a nickname, but the use of ‘Mrs’ does make it even more difficult.

It would be the 1950s when some people began to use “Ms.” as a title of respect. Unlike “Miss” or “Mrs.”, it doesn’t indicate a woman’s marital status. The title became popular during the women’s movement of the 1970s because “Ms.” seemed a suitable equivalent of “Mister,” a title of respect for both unmarried and married men.

Checking newspaper articles even in the 1950s and 1960s you will see many married ladies where it is written: “Mrs. Edward Hancock” and you have no clue of their given names. That does change quite a bit by the 1970s and beyond.

Photos: Titles, 1917 with titles and no given names and MS.

Related Blogs:

Maiden Names

Surnames and Maiden Names

Finding Female Ancestors

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