Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Mary, b. abt. 1860, Ohio

I was studying my main genealogy file and noticed that I have 18 entries for women identified only as "Mary" born anywhere from 1592 to the late 1700s. Every time I go to my file, I figure out I have my life's work cut out for me. So, why am I focusing on the Mary in the title? Actually, this is a made-up entry that I use to illustrate the impossibility of identifying someone without more information. As I looked down my list of names with only a given name, I notice that they are almost all women, except for a couple of patronymics in Denmark where the father's name is likely extrapolated.

The problem here isn't just a missing surname, but an entire pedigree line is missing due to the lack of identifying the parents of the wife in the family.

There are really two different things going on here; one is a true lack of adequate records where the wife's maiden name is identified and second lazy, incomplete and sloppy research. Personally, my main focus for the last few years has been on accumulating, scanning and identifying more and more documents about my family. I just had one of my grandsons here for a couple of weeks and he scanned an additional 5,836 family related documents. This brings the total up to something over 106,000 images including photos. But that is another story. My point here is addressing those researchers who think that by finding the given name of the wife, they are through with their research.

I see this continually with researchers who think the only record that exists is the U.S. Census and even then, they sometimes ignore the fact that the mother-in-law or father-in-law is living with the family and therefore they already have the maiden name of the wife. In reviewing many of the incompletely identified women in my file, I realize I really don't have a very secure position from which to argue, but I can always hold myself up as a really bad example.

In some instances, it is simply a matter of education. Once the researcher becomes aware of the problem, they can usually find the surname of the wife without too much difficulty. But in many cases, finding the wife's surname can be an insurmountable problem. This is illustrated by the number of article and seminar classes on just this subject. The reason why I use my example of "Mary, b. abt. 1860 in Ohio" is because there are still a huge number of records that will likely provide the wife's surname for that place and time period. But, of course, as you go back in time or in some locations, finding the wife's maiden name is more difficult to find.

There are a huge number of articles and resources on this subject. I suggest starting with the links from "Maiden Names in the United States" in the FamilySearch Research Wiki. But basic to this whole issue is recognizing that it is an issue.


  1. Mary seems to be everywhere but never actually related to anybody. The other day in the temple I noticed a name: "Mary b. 1850" with no location, and no parents (a family submitted name, so not a temple file).

    Perhaps we are doing temple work wrong. Rather than doing the work for each individual person we just need to do the work for a generic "Mary b. 1850" and that will cover all Marys for born that year ;-)

  2. After I read this article, I counted my database for all the Maria/ Mary and Ann and Elizabeth Unknowns. I even have a Hedwig. I did have notes for conjectural families for many of these women but it seems I should do better.