Use these five strategies to help discover your female ancestors' maiden names.
In this article:
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.
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 (see the February 2004 Family Tree Magazine for church-records research advice). Study historical newspapers, too, for an announcement.
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.
In the tombstone, look at plots 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.
Once you have a guess at a surname, start researching families in the area with that surname 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 maiden name. It's likely that a collection of clues will lead to her name, rather than a single momentous record that states, "I, Mary Smith Pearson ... "
To read case studies of finding female ancestors' maiden names, see A Genealogists's Guide to Finding Your Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack (Betterway Books, $17.99).