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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Seven

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter Seven: Strategies for Tracing Female Lines by Judith Eccles Wight, AG.

When I first started doing a survey of what research had already been done on my family lines, almost immediately, I found a huge number of the families where the wife was identified only by her first name or where the only name for the wife was Mrs. followed by the name of the husband. Well, this indicated to me one or more of the following:

  1. The person who did the research was not really interested in completing families but only in researching the direct male line.
  2. It was probably harder to find the female's maiden name in societies where the wife took the husband's surname that it was to trace the male line.
  3. Documents showing the maiden name of a married woman were probably not readily available. 

There were probably quite a few other reasons but I didn't have all that much experience in doing genealogical research when I started. At that time, any help in understanding this situation would have been greatly appreciated. As it turns out, there is quite an arsenal of research tools available to help establish the wife's maiden name. Although this present chapter by Judith Eccles Wight is not exhaustive in its treatment of the subject, it has enough substance to get you started, especially if you have little experience in this area.

This chapter suggests quite a list of sources that may supply the wife's maiden name. Some of these sources are obvious, such as contacting relatives and searching for extended family members, but others are much less used such as looking closely at naming practices. For example, in my own family, many of the family members bear the name of an ancestor. In fact, there is a line of female ancestors with the same name passed down through generations.

Chapter Seven is not so much of a solution to finding your elusive female ancestor, but rather road map with way-stations showing you where you have to go to find the information. The key to finding the surnames of married female ancestors is research in depth and breadth. You can't just use the most common sources. You need to move on from superficial research and really dig into probate, land and property, tax, and a huge variety of other sources to find clues that will give you the names of ancestors. For example, a deed may list the names of witnesses. One or all of those witnesses may be the wife's brothers or other family members. It is necessary to research all of the people in the records, not just the ones you recognize as related.

When I started, there were a lot of helps for this type of research, but I didn't find out about them for quite a long time. Fortunately, today, with the Internet, we not only have more help but that help is much more accessible. Of course, I suggest this chapter as a start, but here are a couple of other suggestions for starting:

  • FamilySearch Research Wiki: Maiden Names in the United States. This is a good place to start, even if your research is not in the United States. Be sure to follow all the links in the Research Wiki for more information. 
  • Cyndi's List: Female Ancestors. This is a comprehensive list of all types of resources. You may find this somewhat overwhelming at first, but you really do need to understand these different types of resources to find your female ancestors. 

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