Finding Married Names

by Juliana Smith

Last week, we talked about finding maiden names for the women in our families. However discovering the married names of women who suddenly disappear from family records is every bit as challenging. As she marries and moves away from the family, a woman's identity is disguised under husband's surname. If she was married more than once, the puzzle is all the more complicated. And by the way, it's sometimes easy to forget that older generations of widowed and divorced women did marry more than once. Don't give up hope. There are some surprisingly good places where you can find married names.

Home sources. If you're working with relatively recent generations, ask family members what they know. Pore over old correspondence, photographs, or other memorabilia for clues. Overlooked clues can sometimes jump off the pages of old family address books.

Sponsors, witnesses, and family associates. Just as in the search for maiden names, check out those names that keep popping up in records as witnesses, sponsors, neighbors, and business associates. Ethnic communities were often close-knit groups, full of extended family. In some cases you may find multiple siblings marrying into the same family. Also look at the names of informants on the death records of other family members. You may find that the woman you're seeking provided the information for the death record.

Court records. Be sure to seek out probate records on all family members, especially probate records that include the names and relationships of living and dead family members, including married names of female siblings or offspring.

Newspapers. Traditionally, obituaries are the richest source of biographical information in any newspaper. Don't forget to search for all family members. They can be one of the best ways of finding those elusive married names of female relatives. While the obituary section is naturally the first place a family historian searches, other sections of the newspaper - especially old newspapers - can yield some surprising details. Engagements and marriage announcements were important popular features in hometown papers, and you will find them to be great places to find for maiden names and married names. Social pages often recount the comings and goings of visiting family members and are a wonderful source for married names.

Use technology. These days, we have some powerful tools at our disposal in the form of searchable electronic databases. Try searching, using just a given name, and then include information like place of birth and birth date, relationship (wife), race, residence, and any other fields available for that particular database in order to narrow your search to a few candidates. Then do a little digging on those that closely match what you know and see if you can find a connection.

Do thorough census searches. Seek the census records for all family members and don't forget to search forward. Sometimes we find the siblings or parents of our ancestors in census records and continue backward, without remembering to search forward too. You may find a widowed sister living with a brother or moving back in with parents later in life. Beginning in 1880, U.S. Censuses will list the relationship to the head of household and are a huge help in locating women who moved in with family under their maiden names...