Don’t give up. When you’re faced with the tough task of tracing an elusive female back through history, it pays to be persistent. You’ll find plenty of rewards by tracing female family lines. Instead, tackle the challenge of following a female with the following tips – you may find that your great-great-grandmother’s maiden name and hiding place aren’t so far out of reach after all.
Tip 1: Ask around. Does anyone else in the family know the maiden name or recall other family names that could be associated with Great-Grandma?
Tip 2: Check online family trees. You may discover that someone else has already jotted down a maiden name for Great-Grandma (although you’ll want to reconstruct the research to be certain it’s the right maiden name and the right Great-Grandma).
Tip 3: Look at home. Is there a family member with an attic full of memorabilia? Something hidden in there, including wedding announcements, funeral cards, details on the backs of photos, notes on postcards and letters, or even a high school yearbook, could point you to Great-Grandma’s name. Also check related collections at Ancestry.com, including public member photos.
Tip 4: Check the church. While a marriage license should point you to Great-Grandma’s maiden name, you may not luck into finding one (prior to the 20th century, many states were hit and miss with civil registration of births, marriages and deaths). Church records and registers, however, may hold clues, including who married whom.
Tip 5: Look nearby. Property records, marriage records, naturalization records and more, whether in Great-Grandma’s name or her husbands’, may have included witnesses from her side of the family. Also consider that Great-Grandpa may have done business with Great-Grandma’s family.
Tip 6: Check the children. While state-held birth records may also be hard to come by prior to the 20th century, children are great keepers of clues. Middle names may have come from Great-Grandma’s side of the family – one of them may even be her maiden name. Baptism records could include the name of a sponsor or godparent who was related to Great-Grandma.
Tip 7: Revisit the neighborhood. It may seem cliché, but Great-Grandma could have married the boy next door. Follow her husband back through the census. Is there a female nearby whose name and other details (birthplace, birth year, parents’ birthplaces) mirror the facts you know about Great-Grandma? Follow her forward to see if she married Great-Grandpa.
Tip 8: Dig around the family plot. Families often remained together even after death. Cemetery records may mention Great-Grandma’s side of the family, and cemetery plots may be very close to Great-Grandma’s family.
Tip 9: Move forward. Clues from Great-Grandma’s married census records may point you to her past. If another adult is living with the family, it could be an elderly parent who moved in or Great-Grandma’s younger sibling, who’s helping with the kids. Follow that person back through census records to see if he or she might be the clue you need to locate Great-Grandma’s maiden name.
Tip 10: Read the newspaper. Obituaries can hold valuable details, including the names of Great-Grandma’s male siblings or cousins whose surnames mirror her maiden name. Also look for wedding and engagement announcements for Great-Grandpa. Do the same (plus birth announcements) for Great-Grandma’s children – if their grandparents are listed, you’ll find Great-Grandma’s parents.
For more tips on finding Great-Grandma, check out the latest 5-Minute Find video-Wife Hunting.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.