by Ruby Coleman
If your elusive female ancestor died after states began keeping vital records, the first step is to contact the state agency and obtain a death certificate. Evaluate the information closely because it is only as good as the knowledge of the informant who may or may not be related. Use the information as a clue. A helpful web page that contains information on vital records in the United States is http://vitalrec.com/.
Leave no stone unturned. For every child that your female ancestor had, be sure to look at their vital records. There may be one that contains information on the name of the parents. If your female ancestor lived before vital records were kept on a state basis, be sure to look for those records in courthouses. When working in some states, such as in New England, search town records.
Do you have obituaries for those elusive female ancestors? Clues can often be found in an obituary, such as the surname of a brother, thus indicating that as her possible name. Obituaries should be checked for her and her husband and children.
In some states, the standard marriage application provides a space for names of parents. These will provide significant clues for maiden names and should be checked not only for your female ancestor, but also her children. If information is missing, keep looking at other family members. Was your female ancestor divorced? If legally filed, divorce records will often contain information on where and when married as well as the wifeÕs maiden name.
Histories of counties, towns, churches and organizations may provide clues to maiden names. Never assume there is nothing in a published historical account unless you check it out. Perhaps the elusive femaleÕs biographical information contains nothing about her, but in another published history there may biographical information on a child in which she is listed by her maiden name.
Did her husband serve in a war? If he applied for a pension, most likely information has been supplied about his surviving spouse, where and when they were married and her maiden name. If her maiden name is not listed, the date and place of marriage provides a helpful clue for further research. The same is true for a widowÕs pension application on which she would need to supply detailed information.
When reading census, both federal and state, be sure to look at the people in the household and those surrounding them. An older person by a different surname within the household may be the wifeÕs brother or father. Always keep track of the people living around your subject. In time you may discover they are related.
Witnesses to deeds may or may not be related to the wife. Always keep their names in mind when looking for her maiden name. Witnesses and bondsmen were often related to either the bride or groom. In hopes of finding a motherÕs maiden name, guardianship records for minor children should be checked for information pertaining to their parents.
Probate records, both testate and intestate, may contain information on a womanÕs maiden name. There may be significant relationships mentioned, such as names of in-laws. Contested wills should always be examined thoroughly. The witnesses signing a will may be related, however, if they signed as a witness they would not inherit through the will.
Consider your female ancestorÕs religion. Seek out church records in areas where she resided from childhood to death. Some denominations kept better records than others, but certainly you should look at baptismal records, membership records, marriage records and burial records.
More current naturalization records may contain information as to the maiden names. Fraternal and social groups often kept records that listed names of parents, or more detailed information on spouses and children. Clues to those elusive maiden names can also be found in family treasures such as diaries, journals, letters, photographs and autograph books.
What started as a mile high brick wall, may be easier to get over than you first suspected. Consider any and all of these possibilities when looking for those elusive female names. You may need to check all possibilities, but it is worth every "inch" of the climb.