Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Ancestry.com Site

Sometimes it gets tricky chasing moms and great-grandmas through the family tree, particularly if Great-Grandma is hiding squarely behind a married name.

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.

9 Comments

V. Burke 

The tricky part of genealogy is avoiding the Family Tree Maker firm. Over the last three decades I added 100,000 names to my genealogy but the most hilarious item in all of genealogy is your twenty page textbook in intellectual property law, which suggests that if any of the 100,000 names I have are ALSO in your 5 CD-Rom collection of 7 million names, then I am allowed to “use” the “complete information about one individual on the CD.” The one individual I pick is myself. If I’m unlucky enough to be one of the 7 million, then I’ll have to get your legal department’s written permission to use my own name. And because you don’t and never will have, the vital records of America’s counties on line, the CDs are probably
useless. My wife bought them for one dollar at a flea market. Did we over pay? Best Wishes, VB

May 10, 2013 at 7:20 pm
Diane 

I have almost the opposite problem described in this post. I have a family name used as a given name for several family members–and I can’t find anyone on my tree whose maiden name it was!I do have a couple of brick walls where the name may lie but there are several generations back from the people where the name was used. Is it possible that a random surname with no relation to the family was used as a given name? It’s a mystery!

May 11, 2013 at 8:32 pm
James Knighton 

Diane, it is very possible that the name came from someone unrelated. There was an odd name in my family that kept reoccuring, and it turned out to be the name of a man that an ancestor once worked as a housemaid for. I discovered this by accident in a census record.

May 13, 2013 at 6:11 am
Juliana Smith 

Diane, It is possible that they named the child after someone who was close to the family or a benefactor of some sort. In one of our lines, there are two instances of a man named Edwin Brough Dyer. While we haven’t been able to make a connection between any Brough families in Brooklyn, there was a musician in Brooklyn with that last name and we believe one of the Dyer connections in our family was a music teacher, so we’re exploring whether there is a family connection or perhaps just someone they admired or had a professional relationship with. We may never find out the true relationship, but it sure is interesting learning about the music scene at the time. Even my teenage daughter’s ears perked up when I said musician. ;)

May 13, 2013 at 7:18 am
Linda S. Deal 

I’ve just begun searching my family tree. My Mom & Dad divorced when I was 3 & she moved me out of the state immediatly where I grew up until I was 18. I don’t know if she wouldn’t allow my Dad to see me but I didn’t t see him again until I was 18. They got remarried but I had gotten married & lived in another state. I never got the opportunity to ask him about his family before he died suddenly. I’ve been able to trace his family back to my great grandfather & grandmother but now I’ve hit a dead end. My great grandfathers birth record says “parents unknown”. I don’t know where to go from here. I have no contact with any of my father’s family. Can anyone give me any tips?

May 19, 2013 at 3:03 am
Kristen Koziara 

I don’t remember how to get into the international specific sites. Used to be in contact with someone in Denmark who was very helpful but don’t remember how I found him, also need Germany informational people.

February 9, 2014 at 11:19 am
Kathy Miller 

I agree that obits and newspapers are a big help in searching for female maiden names. I subscribe to a couple of newspaper sites and do a name search and find local news telling about such and such family visiting relatives and that gives me clues.

February 9, 2014 at 11:53 am
Linda Berres 

G-g-grandma died 1898 with no obituary. Her maiden name was Hourigan but can not find any clues to her parents. She was in Ontario with her husband Mathias Lezotte until 1865 when they moved to Wisconsin. Sarah and Mathias were in Dundas County, Ontario.

February 9, 2014 at 5:03 pm
Johnnie Wells 

Wouldn’t it be more helpful if aAncestry. Com had a blank specifically for maiden names? I am new to this but I am often conflicted when completing the forms when a female has married.

February 12, 2014 at 4:24 pm