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Genealogy Research

Can’t Find Your Great Grandmother? 3 Places You May Not Have Looked (Yet)

Finding an ancestor’s maiden name is tough. Discover 3 often overlooked genealogy resources to identity your female ancestors.

Finding a female ancestor’s maiden name is at the top of many genealogy researchers’ minds. It’s usually at the top of mine!

Few days go by when I am not mulling over Joanna Barrett of Surry County, NC. One day…..

One of my goals is to help genealogy researchers discover uncommon resources and places to seek out more information on those female ancestors. Moving beyond the traditional genealogy records is critical to breaking down those brick walls surrounding our ancestors.

The Usual Genealogy Records and Resources For An Ancestor’s Maiden Name

Before we get to the uncommon resources for a female ancestor, let’s review the basics for finding that great-great grandmother’s maiden name.

The Birth Certificate / Birth Record

If birth certificates were being issued at the time of your ancestor’s birth, this is one of the fist places to look. Full names and the parents’ names (of course!) are mentioned.

Birth certificate for Cecile White - 1917 Surry County,NC
1917 Birth Certificate

Alternatively, a Family Bible is also an excellent resource.

[Having trouble finding the Family Bible? Read Can’t Find the Family Bible? 10 Places You May Not Have Looked.]

The Marriage Record

The marriage of a couple was a cause of celebration AND a cause for paperwork. For genealogy researchers, that is always a good thing.

Marriage records evolved over the years depending on the time period and the location. It is imperative you know what type of marriage record was generated by marrying couples for the point in time you are researching.

Were marriage bonds being used? Marriage Licenses? Marriage Registers?

Marriage Certificate for Howard-Maddox
1914 Marriage Certificate, Lee County, NC

Take a bit of time upfront and research the marriage process for your ancestor before searching the records.

The Death Certificate / Death Record

Death records created around the passing of an ancestor vary in type and in information provided. Like the birth certificate, the death certificate is the first record to check (if they were being issued).

Typically, the deceased’s parents are named on the certificate, and that does include the mother’s maiden name. Unfortunately, sometimes the informant for the death certificate may not have known the mother and/or father of the deceased and these areas are left blank.

NC Death certificate for Mattie Maddox Howard
1927 North Carolina Death Certificate

The obituary is another death “record” that can state a woman’s maiden name. It is certainly not always listed, but should be checked.

3 Places You May Have Overlooked in Searching For Your Ancestor’s Maiden Name

Once the usual sources for a female ancestor’s maiden name have been exhausted, genealogy researchers must start thinking “out of the box”, and consider what other documentation and records could possibly mention her maiden name.

We are going to take a look at 3 uncommon records many genealogy researchers often overlook.

1. A Sibling’s Record

Did your female ancestor have brothers or sisters? If you are not sure, research her for potential siblings. Knowing an ancestor’s siblings is an important clue when tracing female ancestors.

For example, if birth or death record for your female ancestor (or male ancestor!) cannot be found, and you can document a sibling(s), research the sibling for the parents names.

Black and white photo of 2 men with side parted hair, in suits. One with bow tie the other with regular tie.

2. Faith Records AND Periodicals

Genealogy researchers often use church records for finding birth, marriage and death records. If you have not explored church records for your ancestor, this is the first step.

However, do not stop at just the sacramental records. Many churches at the local and regional level had newsletters and religious newspapers. The Biblical Recorder printed in it earliest form in 1833 serving North Carolina Baptists is one such example.

Obituaries written in religious periodicals can often provide the woman’s maiden name. If not listed, often clues to other family members are provided. (See A Sibling’s Record above.)

3. The Gravestone

An ancestor’s gravestone may seem like a common place to look to some for that maiden name, but for others, maybe not.

The important thing to remember as you seek out where your female ancestor was buried is to view the actual gravestone.

With so many online databases such as FindAGrave, BillionGraves and, genealogy researchers can find a listing and/or a transcription of an ancestor’s gravestone. Many of the listings do not have the image alongside the gravestone information.

Charleston, SC gravestone for Mary Hayne, daughter of Wm Hayne.
Mary Hayne, daughter of Wm Hayne

We know as researchers when possible to seek out an original record, and it is the same with gravestones. If you know the burial place for your ancestor, you must do all you can to view that actual gravestone. If you can, go see it in person, but if not, seek out assistance from local genealogy researchers or the cemetery staff to get a photograph of it.

Be sure to take or ask for a photograph of all sides of the gravestone. You’d be surprised at what you find on the back of someone’s tombstone.

Parting the weeds and being careful of fire ants, I discovered a Great-great-great grandmother on the back of her husband’s gravestone!

How to Find More Overlooked Genealogy Resources for Women

Special collections at state and local archives, museums and libraries are some of the most overlooked resources by genealogy researchers. Researchers can be unsure what the collections contain and how to even find/use their unique finding aid.

ArchiveGrid to the rescue! ArchiveGrid is a bit like a large online “card catalog” for special collections around the world. It contains entries for 7+ million records and covers 1400+ repositories.

Homepage for Archivegrid showing map with blue location marks

Best part? It’s free!

What’s so special about special collections? A repository’s special collection can contain things such as personal diaries, photographs, copies of family Bibles, and letters. These are the types of records that document an ancestor’s personal life. A letter written to a father or mother makes the connection between generations.

Researching special collections takes time, but is well worth the effort. If you are just getting started with ArchiveGrid, learn more in the post Use ArchiveGrid To Find Old Documents & Family Records.

Now It’s Your Turn!

Ready to renew the search for your female ancestor’s maiden name?

Exhaust those usual genealogy records and then move onto those lesser used records.

You can do this!

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