Sunday, March 1, 2009

Finding Maiden Names

The following blog entry is taken from the Learning Center at, and posted by Juliana Smith:

March is Women’s History Month and a quick search turned up several websites celebrating the better-known accomplishments of women. The Library of Congress has a page recognizing women’s contributions to the arts , while the National Women’s History Project is honoring women for their efforts in saving the environment. I love to see high profile women get their due, but I think it’s equally important to honor the women in our own families. Although most of their stories are overlooked in the history books, their sacrifices and struggles helped make a better life for those of us who came after them.

Those hard-to-find maiden names are often the biggest mysteries we need to solve. Yet with some detective work, maiden names can be found, thus opening up new and exciting areas of research. The birth, marriage, and death records of your ancestors will often provide missing information, and if not, consider looking at the records of all the ancestor's siblings. Record formats changed over the years, and from place to place, so information not provided on one child’s record may appear on that of another. Even half-siblings could hold the answer. We learned the maiden name of my third great-grandmother by obtaining the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandfather's half sister. When Suzanne Dyer married John Sterling, she gave her mother's maiden name as Nelson. Keeping up with tradition, she named her first son, Nelson. Maiden names were often passed along as middle names as well.

Keep track of the names of sponsors and witnesses you find on any record as they were often in-laws. If you see a recurring name that you suspect could be your ancestress’ maiden name, try searching for her in censuses in which she would have been a child using that surname. Coupled with information you've found in later censuses after she was married, such as birth year and place, and the birth places of parents, you may be able to locate her. Of course, you'll need to follow up with proof, but once you have a name, it is easier to prove or disprove a connection.
Another place you may find a woman reunited with her family is in the cemetery. She may be buried in the same plot as her parents or siblings, and or in a nearby plot. If possible, visit the cemetery in person and make note of the names on surrounding stones. Do any of them match up with the names of sponsors, witnesses or other associates?

Tracing our female ancestors can be challenging, but tools like online databases and every-name indexes to census records make it easier than ever to learn more about the heroines in our family tree.

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