Last week I described how variations in names made it difficult to research your family tree and that finding female ancestors was particularly difficult. This is mainly because they change their names on marriage, often had a very common first name and records were all about the male. Females did not own land and had no rights of their own so many records failed to include them. The guide below is to help you get clues to finding your female ancestors. Each on it's own may not give you the information you need but combined could steer you in the right direction.
1. Birth Certificates
Civil registration (birth, marriage and deaths) started in Britain on 1st Jul 1837. If your ancestor was born after that date then their mother, including her maiden name or previous names, will be recorded on their birth certificate. If they were born before that date check if they have a younger sibling as their birth certificate will give you the same information. If they, or their siblings, were registered after the third quarter (Jul - Sept) 1911 then their mothers maiden name is recorded on the index. The index is available free of charge at FreeBMD.
Not sure how to get a birth certificate? Check out my guide for absolute beginners.
Note any unusual names of the children. These could be named after fathers, mothers, siblings. When checking records look for these names.
My 5 x great grandfather was Swann Ripsher. An unusual name and of course his mothers maiden name. I also have a Swan Andrews, Swann Ripsher Davy, and a Swan Wallis in my tree. They are all related.
3. Middle Names
Middle names began to be popular in the mid 17th century and luckily for us many are either unusual or the mothers maiden name. This can be a huge clue as to the identity of the mother.
In my tree I have a Richard Rose Parker. His parents were Eli and Phillis. Now Rose is an unusual name for a boy so I checked for marriages between a Parker and Rose and found Elias Richard Parker married Phillis Rose. The dates and place fitted in perfectly too. All their children (except the first) were given Rose as a middle name.
4. Wills or Probate
Until the twentieth century married women owned nothing so when they died all their belongings automatically belonged to their husband but if she survived him he may have written a will. Although it will not give her maiden name it may mention other relatives including brother/sister in laws, nieces, nephews either as beneficiaries or executors.
Headstones do not typically have maiden names but sometimes they have other references. Maybe loving daughter of, or a date of birth. Look at the headstones around your ancestor, make a note of the names. Very often people were buried close to their relatives in the same part of the churchyard.
The above stone is a fabulous find in Haddenham, Oxfordshire it says;
In Memory OfThis gives me her maiden name, her parents, that she was a widow (relict) and her husbands middle name is unusual, possibly his mothers maiden name.
Elizabeth relict of
Thomas Bailey Rose.
the daughter of
John & Martha
who departed this life
July ? 1855.
Aged 81 years
6. Parish Records
Women usually married in the parish they were baptised in. Quite often the children, or at least some, were also baptised in the mothers parish. So firstly check the parish registers of where they are living and where the children were baptised. Search for marriages between people with the same male name and first name of the bride. Use the birth of the first child as a guide and work backwards. Two good online sites with free search and transcriptions are Family search and Freereg
7. Expand Your Tree
Expand your tree to include cousins, siblings and more distant relatives. Other peoples records are a great source. Check their marriage certificates, who were the witnesses? Often these are relatives too. On the census check anyone living with them with a different surname and who is living close to them. Check if any of their children were in the military as next of kin is recorded and sometimes their mother with their maiden name.