Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on May 1, 2015 in Ask Ancestry Anne

maryWith Mother’s Day right around the corner, it might be a good time to focus on the female side of your tree.  But let’s face it, women can be harder to track because they didn’t leave as many records behind.  I have a few things I try with every female in my tree when I get stuck on maiden names and finding parents:

  1. Search for her married name in other people’s obituaries. You might find her in a sibling’s obituary that has that maiden name you are looking for.  Even if you don’t find the name you are looking for, make sure you research the names in the obituary.  You never know what you might find.
  2. Look at other surnames in the household. When reviewing census records, look for unexpected surnames in the household.  And if you find the family in a city directory, search for other names at the same address to see if you find in-laws or people you didn’t expect.
  3. Look at neighbors, especially right after the wedding. Often after a couple is first married, they don’t move far from home.  Check the families nearby and see if they might be likely candidates for the family of the female you are researching.  Then look to see if she is in the household in the previous census.
  4. Look through local and family histories. Family and local histories are full of names and relationships.  Search for local histories in the county in our card catalog or on the place pages for that state and county.
  5. Check death certificates for all of a woman’s children to see if her maiden name is listed.  The death certificates of her children may hold a clue to the mother’s maiden name.  Also, look at the obituaries of the children.  Some are written with a lot of detail.

Do you have a question that you would like to see answered?  We can’t get to all of them, but send  your question to Ask Ancestry Anne and you might be featured in an upcoming column.

Happy searching!

Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.

33 Comments

  1. David Oseas

    Not only death certificates, but also marriage certificates of the children usually have the mother’s maiden name. The marriage certificate info may be more accurate, because often the mother is still alive to provide or verify the information for her children.

  2. Kristine Lewis

    Hi, All! I am new to Ancestry.com and, at this point, I am totally confused on how to get going. I have a membership, but can seem to get any information from the site. When I try to look into any records, I am faced with an ever-growing list of sites that I must subscribe to and pay quite a bit of money to access. Is this normal? Is there any access to information that comes with my subscription? I’m at a wall at this point, and I am just getting started!

  3. Barbara

    I have used Ancestry twice in the past and have never been able to trace my Polish lineage back to Poland. It is very frustrating that, try and I did, I couldn’t get any answers.

  4. John Lowe

    I do not read Kristine Lewis’ comments as disrespectful. I am a would-be subscriber who is also wary of free or reasonably priced websites that lead me to expensive websites. I would like to see an answer to her questions, please.

  5. Elizabeth Dods Divers

    Hello, my immediate family members were born in Scotland and Ireland. I am doing great guns with the ancestors who emigrated to America (all thanks to 2 cousins, Susan Tirza Mitchell (Seattle) and Tom O’Hara (Hanover, PA) but I have a blank when it comes to my maternal grandfather, William Crossgrove (I heard he may have been born in Mulingar, Ireland and lived out his life in Glasgow, Scotland) fought in WW 1 in Europe. Can you please steer me in the right direction? I am totally addicted to my Ancestry.com Also, my cousin Susan Murray has access as a Guest but cannot open her tree that I have built. Again, can you help? Thanks, Elizabeth

  6. Beverly Santos

    i would like to see normal people on the show “Who do you think you are” Why is it that only celebrities always get the good stuff???

  7. Barbara Wygren

    Kristine and John, I have been an Ancestry subscriber for many years, if you are using the free trial you are not going to find much. Try a month to month or 3 month subscription. I started that way and have built a tree with 15,000 plus ancestors. I still have several brick walls; but I feel I have learned a lot and gotten a lot of information from Ancestry.

  8. Barbara Stawecki

    I started w/Ancestry a few months ago for the 2nd time. I have lots of info on mothers side of family but not anything on father’s side. My paternal grandmother was born in England (Helen Moss). My father was born when she was about 16-17 yrs. old in New York. My grandmother married Frederick Berju who adopted my father. 1920 Census showed my father’s name as Robert Winter, 1930 Census showed his name as Robert Moss Berju. Can’t find birth records for my father under Winter, Moss or Berju. His birthday was May 20th, year is either 1909 or 1912. I need help of where to look. My father was an only child, no living relatives.

  9. I’ve been a member for almost six months and have found a lot of my ancestors. I did the DNA test, which put me in contact with others who share my DNA. I love Ancestry.com!

  10. Cynthia Greer

    I have been on ancestry.com for about four years, and pay for the international program. Phyllis and Kristine and John: At times, I come up against a brick wall and can’t find anything. I do research my direct ancestors’ sisters and brothers to see if I can find a clue, and often there will be that one little bit of info. If I don’t get anywhere with that bit of info on ancestry.com, I usually type the person’s name and birth year into google and can get a bit more. When I’m able to enter the gathered info into my ancestry.com tree, many times a “leaf clue” will be generated. Remember that others adding info can happen at any time. Caution: others adding info can be erroneous, too. Double check resources/sources. I started with my great grandparents, and am now back to my 4x great grandparents. cg

  11. Became a member by default several years ago, because of my computer illiteracy. Was unable to find any info when my “free trial” turned into a membership.
    Any helpful tips for finding ancestors of my adopted mother, birthday ca 1914.

  12. Joan

    How do you find death certificates or marriage certificates if you do not know the month, day, year or place they died or were married?

  13. Lawrence Dohogne

    I have a question. I am trying to find my birth mother after 62 years. All I have is her name, at the time and Hospital with city born and of course my birthday. You see, I am adopted. What do I do? I have searched by the info I have.

  14. Donna Forbis

    Kristine, John, Phyllis and anyone else having difficulty getting started, or running into walls – I have been doing family research on not only my family, but my husband’s as well for about 4 years now. My best recommendation is to start by putting in as much information as you know, regardless of whether or not you have “complete” information. If you know that your great-grandmother’s first name was Sarah and that she had a sister named Bertha, put that in, even if that is all the information you have. The Ancestry algorithm can use even the smallest amount of information to generate hints. I would also recommend visiting your local library for help with local research. Often you can find information in local newspapers, etc. on microfiche that may not have made it into digital format yet, and is therefore unsearchable online. Also contacting the Historical Society, Genealogical Society, and/or County Clerk’s Office in the county where your ancestors lived may be able to garner additional information. If you can travel to places that your ancestors lived, even better. I am lucky in that much of my family & my husband’s family have been in Illinois for many generations, and several of their communities are within about a 2 hour drive of my home. Making a list of information you are searching for, then making a day trip can advance your searches immensely. Finally, if you have truly hit a brick wall, you can always consider hiring a genealogical researcher to do the legwork for you, but if you choose to do that, make sure you have a detailed list of exactly what information you are looking for. Giving a professional researcher a broad, undefined search request could result in a hefty bill. Trust me, once you get going, the amount of information you can discover is amazing! Good Luck!

  15. Diane Balmer

    Wills can be another source of ancestral information, as well as providing a glimpse into their lives. Putting the same criteria in familysearch.org can sometimes provide additional information or links back to ancestry.com for documents you didn’t uncover on previous searches. Cyndislist.com is good for finding links to historical societies in states and counties. And as others have posted, google names. It’s definitely a learning process that takes time and patience. Good luck.

  16. Ann

    My great grandfather George Frederick Blumberg 1870born in St. Petersburg Russia, I have not been able to find anything about his ancestors there.
    He went to England and had a large family there , one of his daughters is my grandmother who married Charli Mahongentleman farmer in Co. Clare.

  17. Russ

    Another source rarely mentioned for a woman’s maiden name is a cemetery. Sometimes a husband and wife are buried in her family plot. I found this out last Fall when I found three different couples buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo. Each couple was buried in the wife’s parents’ plot. I found not only her maiden name, but the names and birth and death dates of her parents and siblings.

  18. Jay Derrickson

    I’ve found so much more than I could have imagined, but I have a couple of questions: with so many people being named after parent, grandparents, etc. it seems to help to insert Jr., Sr., and II, etc. for the men. With the women, can I do something similar? I’ve just been kind of going be dates – I am into the 17th century!

  19. shanna

    I have used all the tricks mentioned, but still the woman’s maiden name can not be found.
    Now What?

  20. Alan Richardson

    Anne, It appears that George Arseno(Snow) died in Leicester, MA around Nov. 16, 1893 of typhoid fever. He was married to Delia Fountaine and they had 3 daughters Ida, Agnes and Eva. I would like to know where George is buried – possibly in Worcester, MA. Thank you, Alan

  21. Kathy Soukup

    sometimes maiden names just can’t be found. I have been looking for the maiden name of a 2nd great grandmother for years. I even paid to have costly ($6K) professional genealogists to help. She has one name on her death certificate and another in her son’s obituary.

  22. Dorothy

    Kristine, John, Phyllis–There are some FREE sites you might also try. My favorite FREE site is FamilySearch.org
    Look for your deceased parents or grandparents in their Family Tree. When you find one of them you will be able, with one click, to search for digitized original sources for that person. Of course, not everyone’s records are available anyplace, but using more than one site may help. Since every genealogy site is organized in a different way, you may find one that is easier for you to use while you are learning. Or you just may find more stuff. There’s lots to learn. Have fun.

  23. Gisele

    Hello everyone!
    I would like to know if possible I do my DNA by ancestry if I live in Brasil. I like payment by my credit card. Please tell me what do.
    Many thanks, I love the ancestry crew, work hard to make people happy. Thanks Gisele.

  24. Ken Roberts

    My Brick wall is finding and documenting parents of Deborah Dane, the wife of Adam Shaner. She is my 3rd great grandmother. Her findagrave posting lists names of parents that NSSAR genealogists have rejected and I “think” her actual parents are Ebenezer William DAINS, Born 28 July 1756 in Canterbury, Windham, Connecticut He died 1820 in Muskingum County, Ohio. Married to Margaret Beard in 1776 in Pennsylvania who died after 1820 in Muskingum, Ohio
    Brick Wall: Proving relationship to his daughter Deborah Dane or Dains born 24 Mar 1791 in Pennsylvania. She died 15 Jun 1869 in Bishopville, Morgan, Ohio and was married 2 Feb 1807 in Muskingum County to Adam Shaner.
    Notes: Adam Shaners father, Matthias Shaner is a proven SAR Patriot. Also, there are notes in Deborah’s find a grave website that list her parents as being John Dain and Deborah Bailey – the NSSAR genealogist said this information cannot be accurate and suggested the correct parents are Ebenezer Dains and Margaret Beard – BUT that I still needed to find proper documentation.

  25. My brick wall is finding info from other countries. My father was from Finland. Haven’t found anything on his Father’s side.at all. Found possible on his mother. Do know both his sister passed away in Helsinki and his brother died after spending 10 years in nursing home in Helsinki due to post war trauma as he was held in Russian prison for 10 years. My father died when I was 9 and my mother never knew much about his family. She was from Scotland. She always said that his father, my grandfather had moved to Finland from Sweden and changed his name due to political reason. I found Lehtonen in Russia I have a feeling it may have been Russia not Sweden. Can’t find anything.

  26. WiDogs

    My gggrandmother, Susan Rebecka Doler or Sherron is a mystery because of conflicting evidence. A newspaper states that she was a Doler but four death certificates of her children say she was a Sherron. Also, one of her children lists a Sherron cousin in his 1930 US census and my father said this John Sherron had a daughter, Cora Mae Sherron and we have found one in one census only. How do we resolve such conflicting evidence?

  27. Janet Nazer

    I too have had problems finding information on my dad’s birth parents. All I have is their names (Nick and Terrsy or Trese Costelnic), where they were born (Nick in Austria and Terrsy or Trese in Slovakia), and where they lived at (Youngstown, Ohio), I also have an idea when Terrsy/Trese was born (1888), and that Nick died at the age of 36 of consumption, and that he was a tailor, and that he and Terrsy/Trese had three children; Joe, born in 1907, Anna born in 1909 and John born in 1911, and that after Nick died, Terrsy/Trese brought the kids to Wyoming, but lost custody of them as she had to work. The kids were placed in foster homes, although John (my dad) was the only one adopted. Joe was actually placed in 3 separate foster homes, and Anna was placed in one foster home. Each went on to grow up and get married, and Anna and John each had kids; Anna had 4 and John had 3. Joe, Anna and John are now all deceased.

    I am also having trouble finding information on my maternal great grandfather, Ludwig (Louis) Feil. I know where and when he was born, and where and when he died, and who his wife and kids are, but don’t have any information on his parents’ side of the family. Who were they? Where and when were they born and died? This is all a brick wall for me.

  28. Darlene Romani

    Have looked for info on my great aunt whom I found in a 1920’s census but have never found anything on her again. I was told she died as a teen however there is no certificates, graves or obits. I don’t know where to go from here and hate that she lived and died unrecognized. I would like to honor her but don’t have the first clue on finding her.

  29. Just a bit of advice as far as Ancestry.com is concerned. You are really missing out if you don’t start your own family tree on Ancestry.com and let the search engine (Leaves!) help you build your tree. I have had my tree on the site for at least 3-4 years and continually get hints as new files and databases are added.

  30. Conley

    I have found almost every time, a child in the family will be given the wife’s maiden name, either a first or middle name. And if not a child, sometimes their children will give one of theirs her maiden name. Look at more than one generation for a hint of her name; also relatives, her brothers and sisters, will probably do the same thing with their children, giving them a female’s maiden last name. Also, remember that spelling can be different.

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