Thursday, July 9, 2015

Looking at Surname Questions: Some suggestions on Finding Female's Surnames

I would imagine that many of you have had, at least, a few surname issues - especially with your female ancestors. I'm going to take a

A number of issues are involved here:
(1) No surname is given for the wife
(2) Several possible surnames are given for the wife
(3) The wrong surname is given for the wife
(4) The wife is confused with another female with the same first name and becomes accepted
(5) The first name of the spouse is misread in records due to poor handwriting or indexing errors

#1 can be really frustrating. It seems like every record you come across has her first name, but no clue to her maiden name.

#2 is generally the result of several sources that go back to early research. Hopefully, more recent research will explain away each one or give some evidence as to why it should still be considered viable.

#3 can also be frustrating and infuriating. That wrong surname, if generally accepted, can misdirect research on the family and introduce branches that don't belong on the family tree.

#4 fits that frustrating and infuriating cycle. Everyone hates getting saddled with wrong ancestors!

#5 can really mess up your research. Handwriting can be a challenge to read in everything from census records to wills to deeds.


(1) Check the neighbors! It's easiest to do on the 1850 and later censuses. If there's a family living close to your family with a gap that fits the age of your gal, maybe you have the answer. There may also be a member of the family living with relatives. Also look at deeds or plat maps for neighboring families. Probate records could also solve the problem: identify the heirs, witnesses and others named in the documents. Military pensions, birth records and baptismal/christening records, marriage bonds and licenses, death certificates, local histories and biographies are other sources to investigate.

(2) This is a tough one. Try the sources listed above. Check compiled genealogies to see what source is cited for that surname. Then investigate!

(3) Once again, check all of the usual sources listed in #1.

(4) This requires some bullheadedness. If you suspect your ancestor's surname is in error, prove your suspicions right or wrong. Something as simple as an elusive marriage record may provide the answer.

(5) Get creative! Try to thing of all of the possible errors that could have been made. Look at the other names on the census pages to see what quirks you notice in m, n, o, a, f, and other frequently confusing letters. In other documents, look at letter formation in words that you have already figured out.

There you have a few suggestions on those elusive ladies. I'll be looking at a few examples in my own family tree of female surname quandaries over the next week or so.

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