Maiden names rank among the most elusive facts that researchers must nail down to compile a viable family tree. To a degree, your strategy for acquiring that vital bit of data is dictated by the timeframe in which you’re researching. Listed below are 15 potential sources that are applicable to most locales.
Marriage license applications
Marriage license applications – not the certificate, but the government form that a couple initiates prior to the ceremony – are an excellent source of maiden names. The maiden name of the bride-to-be appears on her application. Can’t locate that? Then try the marriage license application for one of her children. Many applications include the maiden names of both the bride’s mother and the groom’s.
Most countries began keeping these records by 1885. Some date back to the early 1800s or before. These documents can usually be found at the county courthouse, although cities and townships may have their own repositories. Really old ones may be at the state archive.
Be sure to note the bride’s marital history. If she was previously married, she may give her first marital name instead of her birth name.
A woman’s death certificate may yield her maiden name. So might the birth or death certificates of her children. Divorce records are another possibility.
Prior to the early 1900s when state government took over the task of maintaining vital records in the US, birth and death records were largely maintained by local entities. Many county courthouses kept death books that resemble ledgers. Entries span two pages and often give the names of the decedent’s parents.
Older obituaries carried plenty of details that often included the names of the deceased's parents, whether they were still living or not. If the survivors include brothers, there's a good chance you've nailed a maiden name. However, the distinction between biological and step-brothers wasn't always made, so more research is needed.
Wills and probate records
If you have a hunch as to what the woman’s maiden name is, check out wills and probate records of potential parents to see if she appears under her married name.
Many religious organizations maintain baptismal and marital records
Family Bible records
They may not be precise, but Bible records provide solid clues.
Funeral home records
An excellent source of free information, these records often furnish more data than death certificates and are just as accurate.
After 1850, census returns listed the name of every person living in the household. Quite often an elderly person lived with a child, grandchild or even a sibling.
Find an epitaph with the word nee (French for born) and your hunt is over. A cluster of nearby tombstones, all bearing the same surname, may be the woman's family.
Local history books
Many local histories are woefully inaccurate, often nothing more than a forerunner of today’s vanity presses. People paid to get mentioned in the book and supplied the information for the write up. But you never know. Expand your search to include children and grandchildren and you may hit pay dirt.
Military pension records
Pension records exist for nearly every war America engaged in, back to the Revolution. If a married veteran got a pension, there will be a reference to his marriage in the file that often includes a maiden name. Children born of the union prior to the date when the pension was awarded may be listed.
Scour old land records. Sometimes parents sold their daughter and new son-in-law a piece of the homestead for a dollar. County land records are generally indexed by grantor and grantee.
Naming traditions may reveal family ties. Some immigrants honored the mother’s family by giving a son her maiden name as a middle name. A common German naming tradition was to give the oldest males a middle initial that was the same as the first letter in the mother’s maiden name. If the mother's birth name was Long, the boys' middle initial was "L".
Social Security card applications
After the Social Security Act was enacted in 1936, many people applied for Social Security cards. Birth names and the maiden name of the applicant's mother are required.
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