Monday, June 11, 2012

Elusive Maiden Names


Very shortly after you start researching your family you will discover many gaps in the known information.  This is where the fun begins as we proceed to discover new pieces of the puzzle.  The maternal maiden names are often a challenge that creates brick walls to our search.  In the following article I will discuss steps that can be taken to eliminate these brick walls.

            The most important issue in this search is that most records were created and for men.  Property records were normally created in the man’s name.  Men ran businesses and ran the government.  Women’s names were changed with every marriage and did not provide a good paper trail.  Men were the creators of the paper trail that allow us to follow their lives throughout time.

            The place to start this search is with the women’s name.  Write out as much of the name as you know.  Make sure to include as part of your list all the various spellings of the first, middle and last names.  A simple name like Elizabeth can also be called Mattie, Betty, Liz and Sally.  Individuals did not always go by their birth name.  In my own family my paternal grandmother went by the name Babe for the first five years of her life until her parents decided on the name Cleota.  Ironically many people in the family would continue to call her Babe throughout her adult life.  Many vital record documents would also include the use of the name Babe.  Knowing the variety of name spellings is often key to the maiden name hunt.

            Make a list of the names of all husbands and children.  Be certain to list first, middle and last names.  The use of previous surnames for naming children is a common practice.  Frequently the first son and first daughter are named after the paternal line.  The second son and daughter are named after the maternal side of the family.  With additional husbands and having children involve a new list of names on the paternal side.  Middle names that do not sound like first names, but sound like surnames are often from the maternal side of the family.  This was common with the creation of middle names in the 19th century.  In my own family a nephew was named Andrew Preston French.  The middle name Preston is a family surname on the maternal side of the family.

            The third step is to create a timeline of your female ancestor’s life.  Start from the birth of the women and work until her death.  Include place of birth, school attended, marriage, children’s birth, employment, children’s marriage, and death.  The timeline should include the local and world events that went on during their lifetime.  I am struck by the events that are going on outside the family unit that effect the decisions of our family members on a scale that we may have never even considered.

            Obtaining a photograph of the person is very valuable and may offer clues to the individual that we are researching.  What are the distinctive features looking back at you from the picture?  Does she have black hair, high cheek bones, tall or short and does she look healthy?  What is the clothing she is wearing?  Are you able to pinpoint in where, when, what and why the picture was taken?  With evaluation of the picture clues can come out that will help with our search.

            Make sure to contact the older females on the side you are researching and ask questions.  Ask them questions that may provide clues to your search.  Do you remember particular habits, recipes and traditions?  During holidays the women were way more likely to be talking about family matters than the men.  Great family nuggets were shared during this period of time.

            Weddings mean marriage records that provide clues on our families.  Records of this type start very early in the history of our country.  Recent records provide the greater amount of information that exists on individuals.    Pay attention to the other names that are listed on the marriage certificate.  Although early certificates do not provide a lot of names pay attention to the people during the same time period who are also getting married by the same person.  This indicates a strong possibility of relationship that needs to be researched to see if they provide clues on your family line.

            Birth records of children will also provide clues to maiden names.  These records date back to the 1630’s, but there are many large gaps.  Town records often listed the maiden name of the women in birth records from an early period.  The majority of birth records do not appear consistently until the latter half of the 19th century.  This information was not always filed and in many states did not become mandatory until the 1900’s when the states took over collection of the vital records.  Prior to this time submission of this records can be sporadic.  Many church denominations that were strong in baptism kept the records in the church.  Often records in the protestant denominations followed the minister to the various churches, but look for these records in the state denominations holdings.  Catholic baptisms were kept at the parish level, but many have been transferred to the diocese.   Pay attention to the sponsor’s name, because they are often related to the mother by birth.

            Immigration and land records also offer clues to maiden names.  Females gained citizenship by their husband gaining this status or marrying a person with US citizenship.  Reference will be made to the maiden names.  Early land records will mention the spouse and records will be conducted between paternal family members.  Understand the people that your family unit was living next to and who they were doing business with during their lives.  Spouses came from the neighborhood in both rural and urban situations.

            Complete the search by looking through all records that relate to the husband.  Some records to review are probate, military, funeral home, cemetery, obituaries, and social security applications.  Do not leave any stone unturned.  Completing research of sources is critical to resolving this brick wall.

            Finally pay attention to all witnesses on documents.  Women did not travel or conduct business during the early previous to the early 20th century by themselves.  Eliminating those around them is key.  The solution often lies beyond the primary family and is with those that live around her.

            The key to the search is collect all you know on the person.  With this information evaluate what sources are available that will be key to finding the maiden name.  Only by checking all the records will you find the solution.  Complete search is key to finding the name.  
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