In the night she haunts my dreams and her thin shade wakes me from a sound sleep. She is Mary, b. abt 1800 in Ohio. She and her sister shades are the minions of those of the missing maiden name (MMN) with the common given name. All of us have these ghosts in our research, the undefined and unidentified wife whose records seem to be lost to history and to us. But when my own nightly shades come to visit she reminds me that there is more work to be done.
Finding maiden names is treated as a boutique sort-of specialty in genealogy when it should be part of the blue-collar day-to-day work of every genealogist. I know many of us are MMN challenged. So why is so little time and effort put into identifying the wives of our departed male ancestors? Do we defend our unsupportable lack of attention by claiming that the records were burned by General Sherman or that there is a grand conspiracy of the Federal Government to hide the names in a genealogical Area 51? Why should this call to action by the shades of my departed ancestors weigh so heavily on my mind?
Instead of following the male line in your pedigree, follow the female line and mark where the first MMN appears. You might be surprised to find one in the 1900s, or commonly in the 1800s. Come now, shouldn't we all be ashamed of this sad state of affairs? How can we possibly hide behind the excuse of a lack of records with people so near to us in history? Looking on FamilySearch.org's Family Tree, one of my own lines ends with Mary, abt 1706, deceased of Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts. I should be ashamed to have stopped in a time and place when there are more records than I have time to look at. Surely, her son, identified as Joseph Pond, born 26 January 1733 in Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts had an identifiable father and mother? But there are so many lines and so little time.
Wait. What is this? His parents are already identified fully in my own records. His mother was Abigail Heath, born 6 January 1703 in Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts. Where did Mary, abt 1706 or Wrentham, Norfolk, Massachusetts come from? And why is she haunting my pedigree? Oh, I see, she is listed in FamilySearch Family Tree. Oh well, I guess I can go back to sleep and ignore the shades of the past for another night.
Now, if you think I am going to set your mind at rest. Think again. But please look at Maiden Names in the United States and the links from that page or try search for "genealogy maiden names" in Google.