Tracking down our female ancestors requires thinking "outside the box". Always focusing on her may not yield our desired results. By taking our focus off of our female ancestor, we can be sure of exhausting all possibilities of finding her in the records.
Female Ancestors,  Genealogy Research,  How To Trace Your Family Tree

How To Track Females in the Family Tree Using the Children’s Records

Explore an unusual genealogy research strategy to find the females in the family tree. Elusive female ancestors may be hiding in their children’s records.

Tracking down our female ancestors requires thinking “outside the box”.  Always focusing on her may not yield our desired results.  By taking our focus off of our female ancestor and shifting that focus to other family members and even friends in her life, we can be sure of exhausting all possibilities of finding her in the records.

Today, we are going to focus on your elusive female ancestor’s children.

Uh oh….I can see that questioning look on your face! Grab a cup of coffee or tea  and let’s look at what researching a woman’s children can yield to the genealogy  researcher.

Explore an unusual genealogy research strategy to find the females in the family tree. Elusive female ancestors may be hiding in their children's records.

How To Track Your Females in the Family Tree Using Her Children’s Records

Surprisingly, a number of records generated my a female ancestor’s children hold clues to the mother. Ultimately, any researcher’s goal is to find the maiden name of the female ancestor. Without her maiden name, extending that maternal ancestral line back is almost impossible. Proving the lineage for admittance into a lineage society such as the DAR without maiden name is extremely difficult.

Let’s take a closer look at children’s records to see what we can learn.

Birth Records

If you know or suspect you know a woman’s child, check for the child’s birth record. A child’s birth record will typically state the mother’s maiden name. Birth records include the traditional birth certificates (of more “modern” times) or birth/baptism records recorded in the church or  parish records.  Birth announcements found in newspapers will yield at least a woman’s first name.

Explore an unusual genealogy research strategy to find the females in the family tree. Elusive female ancestors may be hiding in their children's records.
Mattie Maddox is named the mother of James L Howard

A birth record, regardless of how complete the mother’s information is, will place the woman in a specific place at a specific time. This time and location can be used as a guide to search for other records on the woman and the father.

Below is an example of a church record of Linville Creek Baptist Church.  The heading reads: An Account of [this time?] of the births of the Children of Such as and Members of this Church.

Linville Creek Baptist Church Baptisms List for finding females in the family tree
Linville Creek Baptist Church (Source:

Death Records

Similar to birth records, a woman’s child’s death certificate/record is a source of mother’s maiden name if known. Keep in mind the death certificate is considered a secondary source.  

The information is only as reliable as the informant’s knowledge of the deceased’s family.   When evaluating a death record for a mother’s name (or any family information), know who provided the information.  

Know that person’s relationship to the deceased.  Is the information from someone who would likely have the correct information?  Or is the information coming from a family friend and not so reliable?



Tombstones can also provide information on a deceased’s parents including the mother. Looking at the tombstone for Viola Maddox of Lee County, NC we see she died 2 June 1890 at ~15 months.  She was the daughter of J.T. & M. J. Maddox.

Viola Maddox

The mother’s name was M. J. Maddox.  If M. J. is the subject of your search, several avenues of research are now possible. Consider these strategies to learn more clues to M.J.’s identity.

  • Search the cemetery for the tombstone of M. J. Maddox for perhaps more information on the mother.
  • Search the census records a J. T. Maddox and M. J. Maddox to determine the couple’s full names. The census records can give you more clues to the woman’s identity.
  • Search marriage records of the county and/or state (including neighboring counties/states) for the couple’s marriage record or this couple, you would search for a male J. T. Maddox marrying a female M. J. [last name unknown].  

Illegitimate Children

If you research genealogy long enough, you will most likely run into ancestor(s) who were born out of wedlock. If the strategies above yield no results, determining who their parents were presents unique challenges.

Typically, the father is the unknown parent, but this is not always the case.  I have come across cases where the father is readily known, but the mother is not.

Keep these tips in mind as you pursue the parents  – in our case, the mother – of an illegitimate ancestor.

  • Oral history can provide clues for the start of your search. Even in our modern times, illegitimacy is still a sensitive topic for older generations. Ask and explore your family’s family knowledge, but be sensitive.
  • Children born out of wedlock usually took the mother’s surname.  The child’s surname is an important clue in your search for a mother’s maiden name.
  • If a father acknowledged the child born out of wedlock and supported the child, it was not unusual for the child to take the father’s surname. 
  • Bastardy bonds are another resource to search.  Details about the child and the mother are provided. Many of these did not survive, but if bastardy bonds exist for your ancestor’s time period and location, check them out.

Learn more about researching illegitimate ancestors HERE.

Census Records

Did a mother live with one of her adult children?

Check the census records of each of her known children! Potentially you can find a birth date, marriage date and even a different surname from a subsequent marriage.  Don’t miss any  clues!

Your Takeaway For Finding Females in the Family Tree

In your pursuit of female ancestors look to her children. Seek out their records for a possible mention or connection to their mother:

  • Birth records
  • Death records
  • Tombstones
  • Oral history
  • Bastardy bonds
  • Census Records

Happy (Ancestor) Hunting!

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  • Brenda

    When researching my English lines I found that many times the mother’s maiden name became the middle name of one or more of her children, especially when the child had the same first name as the father or another family member.

  • Carol Lynne Davis

    These sound like great ideas, but what happens when you live in a closed adoption state? I have located my mother, who gave other children up at birth. Yet, she wil give me no information about them. How do I go about finding them?
    Thank you,
    Carol Davis

    • LisaL

      These are difficult cases. I would recommend reaching out to someone who specializes in genetic genealogy and adoption. Mary Eberle of DNA Hunters specializes in this.

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