Top 10 Sources for Locating Maiden Names

Discovering the maiden name of a female ancestor can sometimes be difficult, but can lead to a whole new branch of your family tree—new surnames, new families, and new connections. Try these ten sources for clues to the maiden names of women in your family tree. 

Marriage licenses, certificates and other marriage records are a valuable source for locating maiden names.
Kathryn8 / Getty

The most likely place to locate a woman's maiden name is on her marriage record. These can include not only the marriage license, but also the marriage certificate, marriage announcements, marriage banns, and marriage bonds. It is generally necessary to know the spouse's name, marriage location and approximate marriage date to find these records.

See also:
Free Online Marriage Records and Databases More »

Babe Ruth in the 1940 Census appears with his wife, his mother-in-law, and other members of his wife's family.
National Archives & Records Administration

Check every census year available for your female ancestor, up until the year that she died. Young couples may be found living with the wife's parents; an elderly parent may have been added to the household; or brothers, sisters, cousins, or other family members may be found living with your ancestors' family. Families living nearby may also be potential relatives.

See also:
Genealogy Research Guide to the U.S. Census
How to Find Canadian Ancestors in the Census
Researching Ancestors in the British Census
Census Clues Can Tell You a Lot About Your Ancestors More »

getty-deed-2.jpg
An Indenture for the transfer of land from Nicholas Thomas to Lambert Strarenbergh in Albany, New York, circa 1734. Getty / Fotosearch

Land was important, and often passed down from father to daughter. Examine deeds for your ancestor and/or her husband which include the Latin phrases "et ux." (and wife) and "et al." (and others). They may provide the names of females, or names of siblings or children. Also keep your eye out for a man or a couple selling land to your ancestors for a dollar, or other small amount. The ones selling the land are more than likely the parents or relatives of your female ancestor. Investigate the witnesses to any transactions in which a widow is selling land, as they may be relatives.

See also:
How to Trace Your Family in US Land Deeds
Canadian Land and Tax Records
Historical Land Records Online
10 Cool Things You Can Learn From Deeds More »

Maiden names of female ancestors can often be found in wills, probate and other estate records.
Getty / John Turner

If you have a possible set of parents for your female ancestor, search for their probate record or will. Surnames of female children, along with the names of their spouses, are often listed. Since estates often involved the division of land, deed indexes for your female ancestor may be able to lead you to probate proceedings.

See also:
How to Locate Australian Wills, Estate and Probate Records
Wills and Administrations in England and Wales
Sources for Hidden Family Relationships in Estate Records More »

Death records for both the woman and her children may indicate the female's maiden name.

If your female ancestor died recently enough to leave a death certificate, this is potentially one of the few places where her maiden name may appear. Since death certificates can often include inaccurate information, check the certificate for the name of the informant. The closeness of the relationship between informant and the deceased can help you assess the likely accuracy of the provided information. Seek death records for each of the women's children as well. Even if the death certificate for your ancestor doesn't include the mother's maiden name, others might.

See also:
10 Places to Start Your Search for Online Death Records. More »

06
of 10

Newspaper Research

Explore online, digitized historical newspapers for news of your female ancestors and possible clues to their maiden name.
Getty / Sherman

Check newspapers for the locality where your ancestors lived for birth or marriage announcements or obituaries. Even if you can't locate an obituary for your female ancestor, you may find notices for siblings or other family members that provide helpful clues; she may be mentioned in the obituary of a brother, for example. Combining a list of your ancestor's siblings with census research can help determine potential families.

See also:
How to Find Your Family History in Obituaries

Tombstones can be a good source for female maiden names
Getty / Rosemarie Kumpf / EyeEm

Tombstone inscriptions for married or widowed women may include their maiden name. Check surrounding tombstones as well, as it could be possible that parents, siblings, or other family members may be buried nearby. If available, funeral home records may include information on the deceased's parents or next of kin.

See also:
Family History Research in the Cemetery
Photo Gallery of Tombstone Symbols and Their Meanings More »

Memorial Day at American war cemetery
Maremagnum / Getty Images

Was your ancestor's spouse or children in the military? Pension applications and military service records often include good biographical information. Family members also often signed as witnesses. In certain circumstances, women could also file for military pension benefits on behalf of a deceased husband or unmarried son; these applications often contain copies of marriage records or affidavits that a marriage took place.

See also:
Civil War Union Pension Records
Civil War Confederate Pension Records
How to Trace US Military Ancestors
Top Sources for Researching Canadian Military Ancestors
Top Sources for Researching British Military Ancestors
Top Sources for Researching Australian Military Ancestors More »

The parish church of St. Mary the Virgin dating back to the 11th Century, at Wansford village in Cambridgeshire.
Getty / Dave Porter Peterborough Uk

Churches are a good source for birth or christening records which usually include the names of both parents, sometimes including the maiden name of the mother. Church marriage records will usually include the spouse's maiden name, and are an alternate source for marriage information for localities and time periods where civil registration was not in effect.

See also:
Historical Methodist Church Records and Archives Online More »

10
of 10

Naming Patterns

Naming patterns within a family can sometimes provide clues to the maiden name of a female ancestor.
Getty / Dave and Les Jacobs

It is only a clue, but the maiden name of a mother can sometimes be found among the names of her children. Unusual middle names, among boys or girls, might be the maiden name of a mother or grandmother. Or the eldest daughter might be named for her maternal grandmother.

See also:
Traditional Family Naming Patterns of the British Isles