9 Easy Ways to Find Your Female Ancestors
We wouldn’t have a family without them but when building your family tree you’ll quickly discover a roadblock.
Where are the women?
Tracing your female ancestors can be frustrating because it’s challenging to find maiden names. Historically women didn’t have the same legal rights as men. As a result generations of women are missing from most records.
Additionally, once married our female forebear’s names were often erased and they became “Mrs. His First and Last Name” for the rest of their lives. Emily Witherspoon became Mrs. John Dickerson.
Locating maiden names is essential to growing your family tree. Sadly, our female ancestors become virtually invisible the further you research back in time.
But don’t despair! You can find those maiden names if you know where to look. Here are 9 easy ways you can find your female ancestors.
Marriage license applications are often the best source for maiden names. If the marriage license isn’t available, look for marriage indexes and certificates. You can find these some of these records online or contact the local county and town clerks office where the marriage took place. If your ancestor was married multiple times, look for all the marriage records. For more information on marriage records, see my blog post “Why I love Marriage Records and You Should Too!”
A woman’s maiden name is usually included on birth records. If you can’t locate the birth certificate of the ancestor you descended from, or the maiden name is missing, look for birth certificates for all children.
Obituaries often include a woman’s maiden name. If it isn’t explicitly mentioned, look to see if her brother, father, or mother is included in the list of family members surviving or pre-deceased. Their surname will be her maiden name.
A deceased mother’s maiden name is often on death certificates. However, because the maiden name recorded on the death certificate is provided by the informant, it is not a fact. You will need to do more research to verify. But it is a good clue to find!
Search the local newspapers around the time of your female ancestor’s marriage using her husband’s name. You might find an engagement or wedding announcements containing the maiden name of the bride. Read the entire article for clues to her family. You might find siblings or cousins in the bridal party. And, you might be lucky enough to discover a photo of your female ancestor accompanying the announcement.
Working back in time, examine all the census records that occurred during your female ancestor’s lifetime. Look at the members of the family and their relationship to the head-of-household. Is there a brother-in-law or person with a different surname in the household? That could be one of her relatives. Look at the neighbors. They might be living next to her parents or siblings.
Finding maiden names in immigration records means first finding the husband’s immigration records first. If they were married when they immigrated or applied for citizenship, you will find the wife’s maiden name on the naturalization papers. If your female ancestors are Italian, like mine, they are listed by their maiden name on ship manifests.
Tombstones occasionally contain a woman’s maiden and married name. Also, look at those buried around. She might be buried near her relatives or in a family plot.
Time to do some digging in grandma’s attic or basement. Family bibles, letters, and diaries often record the private lives of women, and thus their maiden names.
In finding my female ancestors, I discovered where I got my curly hair from. Are you interested in discovering more about your family history? I can help. I’m Kimberlie Guerrieri, a Certified Genealogist with more than 15 years of experience assisting people to discover their family histories and solve some pretty cool mysteries. Contact me for a FREE discovery call to discuss your goals and let’s get started!