If you’re been researching your family history for some time, chances are you have started “climbing down” your family tree. Your great-grandfather no doubt had a few sisters. Have you tried branching out to find them? It can be difficult finding female family members since they often married after leaving the home. If you don’t know who they married, quite often you stare straight into a roadblock and move along in your research.
The time has come to knock some of those roadblocks down! I’d like to share with you a few quick tips on locating females in your family research when you don’t know their married names. This will take some time, but it can have wonderful results.
This exhaustive search method assumes you know the approximate area (county, township) where she lived at some point, but you don’t know who she married.
Let’s pause for a sanity check. Have you done your due diligence? Make sure you have already searched for her in the following types of records:
- Have you searched for her marriage record? Make sure to look through vital records in addition to searching local newspapers.
- Did you look through all the obituaries for her known family members to see if she is listed by married name? Many times the obituary will list “Mrs. Gallagher” as a sister and that can be your very best lead.
- Did you already check for a death record by searching for her father’s name?
- Did you look for birth records in the county or state of her known residence for possible children that might list her maiden name on their birth certificate?
- Have you searched through city directories to find her nearby where here parents lived?
- Have you already performed census searches for her under her maiden name? Many young women moved out and into a home nearby as a servant. This might also be a lead, since sometimes young women married a son of the family she served, or a neighbor.
- Did you try searching for her on FindAGrave.com? Find the cemetery that other members of her family are buried in, then search that cemetery’s interment records for her first name and/or year of birth.
If you didn’t have any luck with those methods, then you’ve got a true roadblock on your hands. With all of that searching behind you, it’s seriously time to tackle it!
Note: This search method is very time consuming but if you are serious about finding her, it’s worth a shot. It has worked for me a few times already.
- Make a list of all US Census entries you already have for her. You will need to know the state, city, township and any further location information that tells you where she lived in the previous census.
- Estimate the birth year as best you can based on all available information. If a girl is listed in the 1910 US Census and her age is 7, she was likely born in 1902 or 1903. If it was enumerated on April 10, 1910 then she was born before April 10, 1903 which means statistically she has a higher probability of being born in 1902. There were 8 months of 1902 (between April and December) and only 4 months of 1903 (January through April) that are potential birth dates for her. You must consider this when searching by age for anyone in the census.
- Armed with her first name (with any nicknames), along with the county which she previously resided and her estimated year of birth, start searching the US Census records.
- Select the US Census after the last one you know she was in. If you’ve found her with her family in 1910, then start your search in the 1920 Census.
Searching for Married Women in the US Census
Enter her First Name, Birth Year +/- 1, Birth Location, last known Residence information and her Gender. I suggest starting with an “Exact Match” search and widening it if you don’t find what you’re looking for. Click on search and see what comes up. This search assumes she hasn’t moved too far away after moving out of the house. Once you exhaust the results from the county she was from, you can widen the search to the state and country if necessary.
- Here’s where your search gets tricky. Every result is a potential lead. You have to research each one of them in turn, individually. What you’re looking for is the low hanging fruit that you can discard quickly.
- Make a list of every lead in the search results, and try to disprove each one by finding out as much as you can about the woman listed. You might have just a few or there might be several dozen. You’ve got to assume each one could be her, and rule them out one at a time.
Research Every Lead
For each female, run her married name through all of the common websites you search frequently for genealogical information. Look her up on FindAGrave.com and at FamilySearch.org to see if any familiar surnames are unearthed. Search for her on Ancestry.com to see if someone else has a family tree with the lead listed. See if you can find her obituary for listings of family members.
- Think of this as “innocent until proven guilty” scenario. Assume that each lead could be her, until you prove otherwise. A majority of your leads will get thrown out within a few minutes. You will likely find enough information about each one that you can comfortably assume that she is not part of your family.
- Once you weed out all the obvious mismatches, you will be left with a few that are real possibilities. It might take some time, but hopefully out of all the leads you research, you will find her!
If you still can’t find her, consider the following possibilities:
- She might have died before the Census you are searching was enumerated.
- She might have moved out of the county or state before or after getting married. You might need to broaden your search to other states, and sometimes to other countries.
- She might be indexed incorrectly in the census, or may not have been indexed at all. Try another census year if possible.
I wish you the very best of luck in your searching. If you have any tips to share, please leave a comment below!
Jessica M. Green
Please visit my personal genealogy blog, Random Mews.