15 November 2014

Sorting Saturday: Maiden names

Finding a good woman is hard. Many a man has said this ... as well as many a genealogist! Traditionally most of us have given up our maiden names to take the last name of our husband. So how then do we find our ancestor's maiden name?

Years ago I belonged to the Irish Genealogical Society. They offered sheet with suggestions for finding maiden names. They took the information from The Pathfinder, vol.18, Issue 4. The Pathfinder was published by the Genealogical Association of Southwestern Michigan.

Birth certificate
Birth certificates now provide the maiden name of the mother as well as the full name of the father. Mine, dated 1969, however does not list my parents. Nor does my husbands, but he is also older than me. Our oldest was born in 1993 and her certificate does include both our names.

Church records
Church records may or may not include more family information than civil sources. It may also include a surprise or two that will help with another step. The baptism records for my grandfather - Joseph Ruczhak - confirmed his parents' names. The surprise here though was the record used his mother's Christian name. The only place I found this was on church related documents. Everyone called her Bessie. The church however records her name here as Pelagia Matys. Her patron saint was St. Pelagia.

Marriage certificate.
Marriage certificates are great for this purpose. My marriage license, for example, offers my husband's full name and my full name at the time of marriage. Notice I did not say maiden name. In my case it was but a woman who had been married before would be using her married name, assuming she kept it and that was in fact her legal name. The certificate also reveals the County in which we registered. This too is important. Notice I did not say the county in which we married. We were both living in Lancaster County but my church was in Parkesburg, which is Chester County. A ten minute drive from my parents' house but a different county. The certificate also notes the date as well as the clergy or Justice of the Peace. In our case, it lists the priest's name. No where does it actually mention the parish or location of the actual marriage.

Marriage license application
In order to get married legally, one must apply. Again, it goes through the Orphans' Court. Both people need to be present to apply. In Lancaster County the requirements now are more lax than when we got married in 1992. For example, we needed a blood test in order to get married. That is no longer a requirement. Under Pennsylvania law "blood relatives down to and including first cousins."

Social Security application
When my kids were born, I had to fill this form out before I was allowed to take them home! It asks for the full name at birth, the place and date of birth, as well as the applicant's address. It also asks for the parents names at birth!

Death certificates
Death certificates, like many things, have changed over the years. A death certificate could hold the answer to a woman's maiden name if she lived into the 20th century and if the informant knew the information. Likewise, look for her children's death certificates.

An obituary can be a wealth of information or it can be a quick "so and so died. services are private" kind of statement. A good obituary may include a woman's name at birth, as well as her parents' names. Look for obituaries of family members as well.

Insurance documents
To be honest, this is one resource I have not yet encountered. It was however included in the IGS' suggestions.

Divorce papers
The IGS suggests that if your female ancestor seems to have simply vanished, it is possible there was a divorce. This paperwork may provide more clues to her maiden name.

Military pensions and paperwork
If a widow received a military pension, often her maiden name was recorded.

Newspapers and county histories
Newspapers especially are helpful although admittedly sometimes time consuming. Older papers however were like little gossip rags. I tracked one family once through one of these tidbits. The "article" was about an anniversary party for a couple. Not only did it lists which anniversary and where it was, but it also listed the attendees and in some cases how they were related to the couple.

Census records
Although this was not included in the IGS suggestions, it warrants being mentioned. Through my personal research on both my lines and my husband's lines, I have found that people tend to move from family member to family member. Often an in-law would pop up in a census in his or her later years. It does also work the other way too. I could not find a daughter once until I found her son living with his grandparents. By process of elimination (there was only two daughters and I had already confirmed the other), I knew Margaretta Still had married a Naylor. From there, it was easy to confirm and document.

Often it will take a combination of these suggestions to determine a woman's maiden name and document it as such.

Sorting Saturday is a genealogical prompt of GeneaBloggers.
Locations listed are located in Pennsylvania (USA), unless otherwise noted in post.