Identifying surnames are one of the great challenges in researching female ancestors. We, of course, have the problem of identifying a woman's maiden name, but sometimes we have difficulty in finding the name of a female ancestor after marriage, especially after a second or third marriage.
Marriage records typically list a woman's name at the time of the marriage, if was she was divorced or widowed, that would most likely be her previously married name (in some cases a woman may have taken back her maiden name, especially after divorce and if she had no children). So in your search for second or third marriage records, it becomes important to know her prior married name -- and when researching female ancestors, it is important to research all marriages.
And if you do not know the previous name or cannot find a marriage record, a very good strategy for finding a woman is to research her children. If she had children prior to her second or third marriage, you may want to check census records, under the names of her children -- and if any of the children have unique names, all the better. And while some children did grow up under the name of their step-father, they often returned to their birth names as adults.
Now, consider children born of the second/third marriage. Because a woman's maiden name is often given on the birth (or baptism) record of her children, if the woman remarried and had other children, you may be able to search for her maiden name in the birth records of a particular area, which could then identify the child, thereby providing your ancestor's surname at the time the child was born. Of course, you want to verify that it is, indeed, your ancestor that is listed on the birth record and not someone else with the same name.
In either case, researching children remains an important key to identifying mothers.
Finally, as in researching for a maiden name, a search of woman's extended family is important. If a parent or sibling passed away, for example, the woman might be listed (under her married name) as a family member in obituaries, or she might be listed in the wills, probate, land deed or other records of a family member -- and don't forget to check witnesses to a family member's wedding, the informant on a death certificate, or other persons associated with the family -- you might find your ancestor hiding in plain sight. And a good practice, even at the very beginning of your search is to post a Message Board query, indicating what you know of your ancestors and exactly the information you seek -- her "next" married name. It is truly a small world, and we cannot underestimate the knowledge (and expertise) of unknown others.
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