Researching female ancestors presents several problems. As a result of women's legal and social status at various points in history, it's difficult to find records specifically about them. Finding maiden names can be particularly frustrating for a genealogist. Here are a few tips for finding those elusive maiden names:
- Marriage records are the most obvious place to find your ancestor's maiden name. If you can't find a certificate in the county records, try searching for church or religious records that may have been created for the marriage. And don't forget to search the local newspaper for wedding announcements.
- Search the cemetery where she is buried. Sometimes a maiden name is listed on her tombstone or she may have been buried near her family members or even in the family graveyard. Research the people in nearby graves and look at the burial records for the cemetery. Her maiden name may also be included in an obituary or on her death certificate.
- Research each of her children--even the ones not directly in your family line. Her maiden name may be listed on a marriage or death record for one of her children. Also, look at the names of witnesses to a marriage or to a religious or legal proceeding. These witnesses may be her relatives.
- Sometimes the best way to find information about a woman is by researching the men in her life. Look closely at all documents relating to her husband. Her maiden name or her relatives may be mentioned in his records.
- You can always find clues in probate or land records or military pension applications. A woman or her family may be mentioned in a will as an heir or as a witness. Occasionally, husbands may purchase or receive land from their in-laws. Military pensions are an excellent resource for finding information about women. Details about a veteran's marriage are often included in pension applications.
- Look for a repetition of names in the family. They could be names associated with her family. Women also often gave their children her maiden name as a middle name.
- Study census records carefully. Older members in the household may be the wife's parents. Families sometimes took in young relatives too so research the names of everyone listed in the household even if a familial relationship is not obvious. Also, look at the names of the families around the household. The family may have lived next to the wife's relatives.
- Once you have a possible maiden name, start researching all of the local families with that name. Look at old census records and find a family with a daughter with the same age and name as your ancestor. You may have to make inferences and assumptions but document all of your evidence!