The most challenging part of researching your female ancestors may be locating her maiden name. What was her name at birth? There are regions where your maiden name is always your legal name and it is not changed upon getting married. This is true for the province of Quebec in Canada. However, the most common practice in the past has been for women to take on their husband’s surname and pass it down to the next generation through their children. The maiden name is can be lost, especially if she moves away from the area of her birth. Even harder to track is when she becomes Mrs. John Smith, or even Mrs. J. Smith, in the records rather than using her full name.
An interesting clue can be found in the naming tradition of passing the mother’s maiden surname down to her children as a middle name, or even as a first name. If you see a surname as a given name, seek out its origin. A word of caution: Do not assume that this will always lead to a direct ancestor. The name may have been given for another reason. This is for sure – this middle surname has a story. Do your research and find the origin.
Create a list of Research Strategies. Census records may list a family member with a different surname. For example: the brother-in-law’s name is John Baker. Head of household’s wife’s maiden name MAY be Baker. Always seek documents to confirm your theory. Take note of witnesses at marriages and baptisms. These may be family members.
Further information on researching your female ancestors can be found in the National Institutes for Genealogical Studies course: Research: Grandmothers, Mothers & Daughters – Tracing Women