Your Quick Tips, 16 July 2007

“Widowed” Doesn’t Always Mean the Spouse is Dead
Widowed does not always mean that the spouse is dead. When researching my ancestors and relatives from the 1870s through the 1920s, I have found on several occasions that my aunt, cousin, or great-grandmother was “widowed.” In trying to find when the spouse died, I found out–to my surprise–that the spouse was not always dead, but living with other relatives or married again.

One example is: my great-aunt Josie was listed as widowed and living with her grown children in North Dakota in 1900. Well, I thought poor Karl had died just as the children were grown and he could enjoy his later years.

Then I accidentally saw his name in a Minnesota census. Yes, it was the right age. Yes, he was born in Germany. “What’s going on here?” I wondered.  Karl was living with a daughter of a previous marriage and he listed himself as “D” (divorced) while Aunt Josie had listed herself as “Wd” (widowed).

Josie’s first husband did die young back in Kentucky, but she remarried. Should she have listed herself as widowed? I found several instances where the woman listed widowed, but the man listed divorced. This seemed to be a trend as divorce was frowned upon.

Keep looking until you are sure “Wd” means widowed.

Tom Humphrey
Jacksonville, Alabama

Print Landscape Rather Than Portrait
I keep folders for births, marriages, etc., in folders for each major surname of interest to me. I put the information on pages set up as “Landscape” rather than “Portrait,” because it is quicker and easier to see the information than if the sheets were going in different directions. If a sheet happens to be Portrait and is not a full page, I cut the bottom off making it 8 1/2″ square so it has the top of the page up as do the others.

This has not made a significant positive change in my research; however, it does save me a minor annoyance.

Loretta O. Davis     
Family Surnames as Middle Names
Reading Paula Stuart-Warren’s A Variety of Resources for Finding Maiden Names made me remember the oddity my husband’s great-aunt Rebecca Allen (nee Henderson) Crawford. Having a male name as the middle name seemed odd to me until we found her maternal grandmother’s burial location. Rebecca had been named for her mother’s younger sister Rebecca who had married Alfred Allen.  She was given her aunt’s married name. What is even stranger is that the younger Rebecca resembled her Aunt Rebecca in appearance (stature and facial looks) more so than either of her own parents. Since then I have found numerous females with a family married name or a family maiden name as their middle name regardless of society’s class.

Debbi Geer

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

If you have a suggestion you would like to share with other researchers, send it to: Thanks to all of this week’s contributors!

Quick Tips may be reprinted, with credit to the submitter, in other Ancestry publications, so if you do not want your tip included in a publication other than the “Ancestry Weekly Journal,” please state so clearly in your message.

9 thoughts on “Your Quick Tips, 16 July 2007

  1. Tom, your information was spot on!

    We had a lady in our family (Nancy Smith) who reached the ripe old age of 97 and years old, and according to her obituary, which was fraught with date errors, she outlived three husbands. I learned quickly that I’d need to prove most of the information given much more closely.

    One night I was fooling around in the Illinois Regional Archives Depository website (IRAD). I’d used their death database quite a bit, but noticed their court cases for Lake County, IL for the first time, and just began entering family last names on a lark.

    When I entered Webster, I was confronted with a Webster vs Webster case from 1870 (she vs husband #2), and when I sent for the record, sure enough. He had willfully deserted her back in 1868, so she waited the required 2 years and filed.

    According to descendants whom I found later, he tied his horse to a tree and took off. They found a possible candidate for this guy living with his brother out in the Dakotas a few years later with a slightly different name. Because Nancy was such a strong and dignified woman, the family kept up the pretense all those years, even preserving it in her obituary.

  2. Pingback: Your Quick Tips, 16 July 2007 - Moore - Wilson Family History

  3. Your assement of the mistake of presuming that Wd meanes “widowed” when applied to a female is very wise – when I was a youngster we called divorced women “grass widows” and I wonder if that is where the notion that they could call themselves widowed rather than divorced, arose.

  4. RE: “Widowed” Doesn’t Always Mean the Spouse is Dead

    Tom, how true. I have found numerous instances of both men and women reporting themselves as widowed. And the practice was not limited to census records.

    I have an obituary published in 1959 which stated that the deceased had remarried in 1937 after his first wife died. Wrong. The first wife (and mother of the deceased man’s children) didn’t die until 1953.

    Along the same lines, I have another obituary in which the first wife and mother of a man’s eldest two children was not mentioned at all, and the second wife was specifically named as the mother of all six of his children.

  5. Family Surnames as Middle Names

    Regarding Debbi Geer’s Aunt Rebecca, since she resembled the aunt more so than the “parents”, is it possible that she was the Aunt’s child? If the aunt or aunt and uncle had passed away, they may have “adopted” the child and just added their last name.

    I have a wedding recorded in 1821 that states, for “our daughter”, although the bride appears to be the wife’s sister, not actually their daughter. She probably went to live with them after her parent’s died. I have other instances of nieces and nephews residing with relatives after a death.

  6. In regard to family surnames used as middle names, many women traditionally dropped their middle names when they married and replaced them with their maiden names, followed by their new husband’s last name. This was certainly still happening when I married in the late 1960s, and I’ve never formally used the middle name I was given at birth again.

  7. When I was growing up in Southern Minnesota where divorce was looked upon as shameful and a sign of social failure, the terms “grass widow” and, more rarely, “widow” were commonly used to describe a woman who was divorced or had been abandoned by their husbands. The term was used to lessen the sense of humiliation.

  8. My maternal grandmother left her husband in 1904 – “threw out all his beautiful paintings” according to their eldest son, sent Uncle Bill up the Hudson River by boat to find them a place to live in the small town where her parents were. She shipped the furniture by freight, then she, my mother, aunt, and youngest uncle (one year old!) went up by train.
    In each census thereafter she listed herself as widowed. My unknown grandfather returned to Canada, made a couple of trips back to see the children, whom he loved, but he was told not to come again! Wow! What had he done??

    Jean Snow

  9. The “Last Name as Middle Name” seem to bloom in the mid 1800s. I have a distant family relative whose first name is a “last name”: Birdsey Northrop. Birdsey is an old family name. Near was a last name consistently given as a middle name to males. Ditto Beekman. Look clsoely at first and middle names to get hints as to additional family names to research.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *