1. Know her names. Research the woman indirectly, seeking records of her relatives—husband, father, siblings and children. She may be named as an heir, witness or traveling companion. A letter may mention her, too. Study the ethnic naming customs, the generational or family naming patterns, and the time period in which she lived. Names were shortened, abbreviated or corrupted into initials or generally misspelled. Records may show a nickname, middle name or second marriage.
2. Marriage records likely contain a maiden name. If most of her children were born in one county, start there for your marriage records, a certificate or license application. Churches may have marriage bonds or banns, or newspaper announcements. Search databases methodically for both maiden and married names trying alternate name spellings & different combinations of search parameters.
3. Reframe your questions. Instead of “What was her maiden name?” ask “Who could have been her parents?” For example, her father died but her mother remarried. Her step-father may have negotiated her marriage bond. Identify possibilities (i.e. parents, siblings) and then eliminate all but the most likely. Once you have a guess at a maiden name or name variation, start researching families in the area for children with your female ancestor's first or even her maiden name as a child or grandchild's first name. Keep track and record any clues that support, as well as refute, your assumptions.
4. Whole family genealogy is the idea that your female ancestor lived with or near her primary family members and other relatives throughout most of her life. Look for records including cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews, step-parents or step-children, or even step-grandchildren to find evidence about her. Don’t limit your research to her direct line only.
5. Cluster families. Like whole family genealogy, cluster family research covers any number of family groups with different surnames related through marriage and living as neighbors and the local community at large. Gather facts concerning collateral families, in-laws, step-parents, second marriages as well as the primary family. Family groups immigrated together, settled in the same counties, belonged to the same religion, and their children or grandchildren migrated to the same new location.
6. Focus onLocation. What records were available where she lived? What historical events happened? What community and/or personal events impacted her life? Death of her husband, her second marriage, the birth of her children and their marriages, migrations and hospitalizations. Include significant national occurrences, such as wars and epidemics, and local events you glean from county histories. Examine each event separate from the others to capture minor details then connect them all for the “bigger picture.” Studying the small neighborhoods and villages within a 20 mile radius will provide you with possibilities to for further research of local events.
7. County or local histories. Learn about your female ancestor through a biography, usually her father, husband, brother or son. Also, historians documented the early formation of pioneer settlements, villages, townships, and counties. Often these accounts include taxpayer lists, family biographies, civil positions held by family members. These books exist and can be found at local libraries but also search with Google terms for a digital copy. Many websites such as Google Books and Archive.org contain these free books you can download to your computer.
8. Make and Map a time line. A time line puts your female ancestor in historical perspective and points you to genealogical records. Remember, prior to 1920, legally women had few rights. A widow or spinster had more rights than a married woman. Therefore, you're looking for her male relatives and hopefully your female ancestor shows up in the records. Take the information from item #5 Focus on location and create your time line. Find or create the best format to organize your facts, one easy to understand and use.
Maps are a visual tool and a helpful aid in locating your ancestor. Historical maps, particularly of colonial America, were often commissioned by the county seat. Plat maps contain family names and boundaries to their property. Geographical maps show the county lines as they changed over time. Maps are an essential part of locating where your ancestor lived and what records may have existed and still remain at the county courthouse. Combine your findings from Cluster research and whole family research. The next step is to map out her family and village and consider what records could be available about her.
9. Expand your research. It can be easy to rely exclusively on genealogy subscription websites for access to research and records. You may be at a point, however, when you've exhausted these websites. You will want to direct your research into news directions and gather information based on others' work. To expand your family tree begin using Google search terms. Open your Internet browser and experiment with names, dates and locations. Many researchers post their questions and answers at rootsweb.com or various sites, networking with others. Some collaborate and exchange information while others create a website to share their family trees and research. The point is to gather information then find the documents to prove your facts.
10. Migration route. What events led to her leaving the home country? Religious persecution, war, famine, freedom, land in the colonies, job opportunity? Did her husband follow migration routes or the Western movement after a war, the Oregon Trail, the Gold Rush, the Dust Bowl, Roosevelt’s New Deal jobs or the Great Depression.
Finally, explore records.Since no magical record set focuses on females, researching them in genealogical documents is more about strategy than anything else. To determine which records to look for, examine your ancestors' time lines and note events that may have generated records. Weddings mean marriage records; children may have birth and baptismal certificates; migrations could lead to land records. These are basic records. Many other types of documents or sources exist. Think outside of the box. Note social or religious groups, or fraternal benefit societies through her church or community. Contact the main office to ask about historical records. If the organization no longer exists, a historical society or library archive may have its files. Research is finding what you don't know and accessing records not easy to find.
Five Tips for Learning Women's Maiden Names Tracing Female Ancestors can be a bit of a task because in most cultures when a woman gets married, she takes on the male’s last name and whenever documents are found as married couples, the woman's given last name is usually not listed, so tracing the female to her parents can be a challenge.
Keep in mind that her name may have changed over time. She may have gone by a nickname or her middle name.
1. Research the woman indirectly, seeking records of her relatives—husband, father, siblings and children. She may be named as an heir, witness or traveling companion. A letter may mention her, too.
2. Marriage records are most likely to contain a woman's maiden name. If you notice from censuses most of her children were born in one county, start your marriage records search there. Look for a certificate and license application in county records. Churches many have marriage bonds or banns. Newspapers may have an announcement.
3. Seek records on each of a woman's children, even those not in your line, including birth and baptism records, marriage records and death records. One may give a maiden name if others don't. Also note others named, especially witnesses, as they may be her relatives.
4. In the cemetery, look at plots/headstones near hers since families often were buried near each other. Study the caretaker's burial records for more information about those people and to see if anyone was buried nearby without a headstone.
5. Once you have a guess at a maiden name or name variation, start researching families in the area with that name to see if any have children with your female ancestor's first name. Keep note of all the clues that support, as well as those that refute, the conclusion you've found your ancestor's name.
Depending on when the woman was living, and the availability of government records, you might find your female ancestor's maiden name in birth, marriage, and death certificates, or social security applications. An obituary may link to a male sibling and list his last name. Sometimes you can find the maiden name is one of the children's middle or first names. In a census record, you may find the parents living next door.
Different ethnic groups do have different traditions, and you may be able to find an early ancestor knowing this information:
• French women often used their maiden names on official records and legal documents. • Married women from Scandinavian countries customarily kept their maiden names but should also be looked for under their husband’s surname. • In the American colonial period, Dutch marriage contracts allowed women to preserve their maiden names and their individual legal status. But, after 1690, the Dutch colonists began adopting the English tradition of using the husband’s surname. • In Europe, German and Polish Catholic women’s deaths were recorded using only their maiden names, not their married names. • Spanish surnames are often dual names taken from the paternal name combined with the maternal name. Married Hispanic women always used their maiden names on legal documents. In other records, they should be searched for under both their maiden name and their husband’s legal name. The word “de” (for “spouse of”) may precede their husband’s surname when added to their own. • Italian women used their maiden names on legal documents and in official records. • Jewish family names ending with -s or -es are matronymic-derived from the name of a mother or wife. • Quaker women often used their maiden name as a middle name after marriage. • Scottish widows went back to using their maiden names after the death of their husbands. • In parts of Wales, up to present times, it was a custom for some women to retain their maiden names after marriage.
Start with vital records. If there are none for your female ancestor, look for her children or husband. You may find her maiden name, place and date of birth, and other information. Look for home sources such as family bible records, letters, diaries, postcards, quilts, certificates of vital records, funeral cards, report cards, scrapbooks, photo albums, recipe books, newspaper clippings, deeds, passports, medical records, etc.
Death certificates: These often contain women's maiden names, but the details are only as reliable as the informant, so be prepared for inaccuracies. Request the children's death certificates; one may give a maiden name if another doesn't. You can get death records from the state archives, or the county or state vital-records office where your relative lived.
Marriage: Often the best sources of maiden names, marriage certificates or license applications are usually available from the same repositories that have death records. You also might find a certificate on FHL microfilm. See the February 2004 Family Tree Magazinefor more on church records research.
Cemetery: A tombstone may bear a woman's maiden or married name, just her first initial, or her husband's name (wife of John Doe). Record information from nearby plots. They may belong to her relatives. Contact the caretaker or cemetery office for the burial record.
Census: Search every census during a woman's lifetime. Look for relatives, as young couples sometimes lived with parents and an older woman may be living with a child. Pre-1850 censuses recorded only heads of household, usually men. Search for the husband or father and inspect the household members' tick marks for one who might be your female ancestor. You can request court records from your ancestor' county courthouse or search for microfilm.
Court: During many time periods, a woman couldn't leave a will unless her husband gave permission. But many unmarried, divorced and widowed women left wills. A woman also may be named in the will of her father, husband or son. For men who died without a will, research court records for letters of administration distributing property. Divorces and petitions for them were more common than you might think. Orphan and guardianship records: If a woman was left a widow with minor children, the children would likely have been granted a guardian, who may have been a male relative.
Land Records: Though women rarely owned land, they may be named in deeds filed at county courthouses. "Depending on the time period and the state laws, when a man bought or sold land, the record can include the name of his wife, and it might also include her release of dower," says Sharon Carmack. A woman's dower is her right to a third of her husband's real property after his death, and she had to grant him the right to sell it. Be conscious of land sales for small amounts of money ($1.00). If you see a transaction to her husband like this, it could be from her family.
Check both grantee (buyer) and grantor (seller) records to determine when the woman or her husband first appear as owning land, and when the land was sold, typically after the death of a spouse. Get more land research advice in the August 2006 Family Tree Magazine.
Pension: A woman could file for a military pension when her husband or unmarried son died of war-related injuries. Widows had to send marriage records to assure the government it wouldn't end up paying more than one pension on the same man. The National Archives and Records Administration has pension records for soldiers from 1775 to 1916; see the Web site for ordering information.
SS-5 Letter – This is the application for a social security number and is available after death. This will contain father’s name and mother’s maiden name as well as birthplace.
Educable Children’s List – These records lists school age children per household by county.
Look for published sources: family histories, local and county histories, genealogy periodicals, local newspapers.
Consider her roles and how those could lead to information sources:
Wife – deeds may mention wife’s name; military pensions may have been applied to by the wife or she may be mentioned in her husband’s records; city directories mention widows/widowers; wills may list wife’s or in-laws names.
Mother or mother-in-law – military record of children may list parents; probate records may list her maiden name; research all possible children; parents often lived with their adult children when they are older, census records may reveal this. This can reveal a woman’s maiden name.
Sister or sister-in-law – Obituaries may list surviving siblings.
Citizen – court records: civil, criminal, divorce, census, city directories, passenger lists, voter records, naturalization records.
Resident – diaries of other women, letters, newspapers.
Church member – membership rolls, minutes, baptisms, marriages, confirmations, burials.