Tracking down your women ancestors can be a challenge since almost all women took their husband's family name when they were married. But, not all is lost, there are many ways to track down the maiden names of women in your family tree with a bit of digging and using a variety of records available. Below are some of the many ways to find your ancestor's maiden name to help you get started!
For many of you this may seem like an obvious place to begin, but for those of you unaware, marriage records can be a wealth of information! Marriage certificates will list both the groom's surname and the bride's surname, so it's a great place to begin. When looking at marriage records, don't forget about marriage licenses, marriage certificates, marriage announcements, banns, bonds, civil registrations, and even divorce records! If you find her marriage record, but her maiden name isn't listed, check the witness's name on the form. The witness could be a close family member. If you're still having problems locating marriage records or finding the maiden name associated, try searching for her children's marriage records, sometimes the mother's maiden name will appear on her children's marriage records as well! Be careful, though, sometimes if the mother is a widow or was remarried, that won't be the maiden name, so be diligent with your search to confirm, the same goes for the bride herself, so make sure to check the marital status.
A great place to find the maiden name of a woman in your tree could be birth and death records. Granted, if you don't know her maiden name, finding her birth certificate will be next to impossible, initially. Try searching her death records first. Often her parents will be listed on the death record, so you could potentially see what her maiden name is. Something to keep in mind with the death records and the parent's name is that her mother may have remarried and the listed name isn't necessarily her maiden name. If you find a potential match, be sure to look in the census records and see if everything matches up. Use the birth records and search for her children's birth records as well, there is a possibility her maiden name is listed there.
Cemetery records are a great place to look, even if the woman's maiden name isn't included on the records themselves. Often times you'll find that the inscriptions on the tombstones state the parent's of the deceased, so you might see "Daughter of Mr Smith and Mrs Foley" or the burial records might include the information of each parent, which might include both the mother's maiden name and the father's surname, which gives you a great jumping off point.
The census records are a great resource to try and figure out your ancestor's maiden name. Often times as relatives grew older they would move back in with their younger relatives or children, so be sure to check the census records to see if anyone is suddenly living with your ancestor with a different name, it could be somebody from your ancestor's side with the same maiden name, like a maiden uncle, or even your ancestor's father or mother. When doing this, keep in mind the marital status because the particular person might be widowed or remarried, so be diligent in verifying the facts.
Newspapers are an invaluable resource for locating a woman's maiden name. Newspapers have obituaries, which often list the parent's names of the deceased. Check for the obituary in local papers either where the death occurred or the hometown of your ancestor. Wedding announcements are also often listed in the paper and list the name of both the bride and groom to be! Check for the approximate date of the event and a few weeks following. You can also search by the groom's name and often your female ancestor's maiden name will be included in the announcement as well!
One place people forget to look for their female ancestors is in the military records. Even if your ancestor didn't serve herself, if her husband or a young son died in the war, often there are records of the pension files with the maiden name listed. Sometimes there are marriage certificates or an affidavit included with the records. If a mother's son died, it is possible that the mother's maiden name will appear on the pension records as well, so check for both spouses and children in the military.
Land records are a great place to look for your ancestor because often the deeds are transferred to the widowed wife, and sometimes your ancestor's maiden name will be listed in the records there. TIP: Look for the latin et ux, which means "and wife," and her name might be listed there!
Naming patterns can reveal information about a woman's maiden name. Look through the names of your ancestors and if any seemingly unusual names appear, it's worth checking into. It is not uncommon that your ancestor's middle name is that of their mother's maiden name, this applies to both men and women in the record. So if you see an unusual middle name, it's worth looking into.
Another great place to look for a woman's maiden name is your family's belongings! Check the back of old photographs for clues to who was photographed, check the insides of old books, and look at any old documents you may have! Family bibles are also a great source of information and are a great place to look too!
You can try reaching out to churches for access to their records that they may have on the woman you're looking for! If you know the general location where your ancestor lived, then you can start by contacting all the churches in that location and that have the same denomination of your ancestor for access to their records. Often if your ancestor belonged to a particular church and later moved, the church may have a record of this as your ancestor likely joined another church of the same denomination in a different location.
Finding your ancestor's maiden name can seem like a difficult task, but there's are many different options for you to begin or advance your search! Where have you found the maiden names of your women ancestors?