Sunday, April 13, 2014

Searching for female ancestors

Women are the trickier sex when it comes to genealogy. It's the maiden name/married name change that always gets me. You never know which last name they're going to use and if they get married a couple of times it can be very confusing. Here's a few things to keep in mind when searching for women.

1. We almost always refer to women by their maiden name in a family history setting. Don't forget to search by married names too! Many women spend most of their life with their married name. In fact, always search both names if you know them. And try it a couple different ways. For example, in the last name field you could try searching "maiden married", "maiden", and "married". And then it's a good idea to go through some alternative spellings of both names if you can.

2. If you only have a married name for her, look at the other people listed in the house on census records. If there is anyone listed as head-of-household's in-law you might be able to get a possible maiden name that way. Some other types of records have witnesses listed that could lead you to a maiden name too.

3. Remember that women can change their name multiple times if they marry more than once. Her "maiden" name on the marriage certificate could be a married name from a previous marriage. Don't rule out records without looking closely at all the possibilities.

4. Searching other family members can often help if a woman has changed her name. For example, if you can find her on the 1881 census with her three children and then can't find her in 1891, search for the three children instead. If her husband died and she remarried the children may have kept their father's name. They may also have her listed on their marriage and death certificates and that can help you narrow down a place where you can start to look for her.

Also keep in mind that two women with the same name may not be the same person! I have one ancestor that married two different women named Anne. The only reason I know they are different people is because the census listed how many years they had been married. One year he'd been married to Anne for 20 years and ten years later he'd been married to a different Anne for only 3. Yikes, that must have been confusing!