A challenge most genealogists face is following their matriarchal line back through time. A woman married, her last name changed, and their identity became forever entangled with their husband’s. Men owned the property, ran the government, signed the legal documents and served in the military. It was the man’s surname that passed to the children through the generations.
Finding Female Ancestors
How do genealogists locate the women that are essentially “invisible” in the family tree? Genealogy Know How shares five tips to find your female ancestors.
1. Marriage Records – one of the best places to find a women’s maiden name are in the marriage records found in vital records and marriage registers. These records can be found in town and county clerk offices and sometimes in church, military and state offices of vital records and boards of health.
2. Cemeteries – The cemetery may be the only place one will find a record of a female ancestor. You may be able to access an online transcription of the cemetery and it is helpful to also visit the cemetery. The individual may be buried close to other family members and if she died in childbirth, be buried beside her child. Make a note of the names and dates on the tombstones but be cautious as there are often errors, including incorrect spelling of the surnames.
3. Census Records - These records may not give you the maiden name of a woman but will provide considerable information about her family members and neighbors. Census often include age and occupation and the ages of the children. The neighbors nearby and individuals living within the household with a different surname could be relatives. Also women sometimes named one of their children with their maiden name.
4. Land Records and Deeds- While an important source of genealogical information, most land records were in the husband’s name. In areas and counties where there was civil law, the husband and wife were considered co-owners of community property managed by the husband. If the woman was widowed or divorced it may be possible to follow her land transactions.
5. Other sources – The recording of births, marriages, divorces and obituaries in newspapers can be helpful. The husband’s pension records or records of a deceased veteran may list the wife or mother. Church records and wills could also be a source of the woman’s maiden name.