On the front page of a genealogy is the surname of a male. The male line is followed through countless generations and the females related drop off into non existence. This is the tradition in genealogy and family history but in the future it may not be the way it’s done. There is a wave of change with surnames and naming traditions. From ladies not taking their husband’s names to hyphenating the couples names together. However currently we go back into a history where women have been neglected. This is because information is not as readily found for women as they were seen as the property of their husbands or fathers. They didn’t do many of the things that required paperwork like paying taxes and going to war. But don’t lose hope as there are a few ways to seek out your maternal ancestors.
Steps for finding maternal records
- Find out how they lived – many families that were poor had to go to their church for help. These families would be listed in the poor records. If the women in the family were wealthy they may be listed in the gossip columns of the times, so search through newspapers of the day. There may be an occupation or association that you can search records for. For example, a female missionary in our family wrote many letters home to the church that were published for the congregation. Cookbooks have always been popular in organisations such as the Country Women’s Association.
- Focus on the women – Census information is invaluable to find a women’s family. Finding a woman’s maiden name can take some detective work though. The census will show where people have been born and it’s a process of checking through the records to line up the dates and shires that the family may have come from. (Don’t forget that some women used their middle names as their first names, so look for both names when searching. And also note that some census takers become lazy and wrote “ditto” a lot so look at other census for the family to check if other places were listed in other years.) Death certificates generally require a parents names, however if no names are listed then placing your ancestor in the census records may help find their death certificates and the parents names.
- Find out about the people around her – headstones and obituaries may have been done by the family. Family members and in laws may have sent letters to each other. Wills of relatives may show the same names coming up. Diaries were kept by the women and other people may have been mentioned. Obituary cards were also popular with people to send to distant relatives.
- Check her husbands associates – Before marrying, a potential husband may have had a long standing relationship with his wife’s family. This could go back to going to school with the family, to starting work with doing an apprenticeship with the family. The husband may have started business dealing with the family and also gone into business with the family after marriage. He may have signed deeds with in laws and he may have had to provide his wife’s maiden name in other business dealings. This is not unusual as I have a few relatives that lived in houses and worked in businesses bought by more wealthy relatives of the female in the marriages.
- Check the records – families normally kept close to each other and have always been there for major celebrations or misfortunes. Look at witnesses of marriages, informants on death certificates, guest lists for functions, witnesses in court cases, funeral attendees, people listed in photos. Also check the child’s certificates, like baptisms. They may reveal many extended family members and the women’s maternal lines.
- Children’s names – always keep in mind that the children may have been given the mothers maiden name in their name. This is a tradition in many countries, so have a good look through all the children’s names and try matching a possible surname with other information you have on a woman.
With having three daughters myself, it would be a shame that their heritage would not get any light over their future husbands. It takes two people to shape and mould a person, whether good or bad. To not see the whole side of a person, it like going to an art gallery and only seeing half of a sculpture. It needs to be revealed in it’s full glory. Women are an important part of our genealogy and can sometimes be put in the too hard basket. But with some persistence they can be uncovered.