What records are best for finding my female ancestor's maiden name?

Researching female ancestors is a challenge for many reasons, not the least of which is the status of women in earlier times, which limited their rights and prevented their names from appearing in official records. The issue has been further complicated with the practice of women taking their husband's name after marriage, in many ways erasing her past. And the further back we go, when less is known on a first-hand basis, the more complicated the task.

However, there are many records that can reveal the maiden names of our female ancestors and many others that can be used in combination to suggest and confirm. And because some of the sources may not be as accessible as others or may be more intimidating to research, beginning researchers may avoid them altogether. Fortunately, more and more of records are being digitized and indexed, creating greater access; but networking with others is also key in accessing information -- different people may have different parts of the puzzle and you may find someone who has already researched the record you need.

One very good way to begin networking to find a female ancestor's maiden name is create a Message Board query and put it out there for the world to see, and it may not be a distant relative that responds, but someone else with the knowledge and a generous spirit. At the same time, be sure to verify the accuracy of any work obtained from others.

One key point to make if you are having difficulty in locating your ancestor's maiden name is to look beyond her records to of "all" records of her siblings, children, husband, and extended family -- this step cannot be overstated. In addition, you may very well find key information in the records of others with whom your ancestor was associated; for example, you may not be able to tell at first glance if one of those "others" is a relative: whenever you find associated names of others in the course of your research, follow it through.

There are many places where a woman's maiden name might be found, and the "best" record is the one that contains the information. So, in effect, there is no "best" record. The following are some of the more likely (and accessible) places to check, along with some that might very well contain maiden names but require a little more digging.

Other Places To Check

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