Introduction: In this article – to celebrate Women’s History Month – Gena Philibert-Ortega shows how newspaper articles can help break through a brick wall common in researching female ancestors: finding her maiden name. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
One of the most frustrating problems genealogists have in their search for a female ancestor is not being able to find her maiden name. Without a maiden name we can’t continue our research and connect her with her parents, grandparents, and past generations. Fortunately, newspapers can help with this problem. Some newspaper articles, searched by her married surname, can provide you with her maiden name. What newspaper articles do this? Consider some of the following examples.
Marriage License Applications
It’s not unusual for newspapers to list county marriage license applications. In some cases, at the very least, these simple lists provide the name of the perspective bride and the groom. Always remember that a marriage license does not necessarily mean the couple went through with the wedding. Depending on the time period, a waiting period may have been required between obtaining the license and the actual wedding ceremony. Those few days were long enough for a nervous bride or groom to have a change of heart.
The above example from the San Francisco Chronicle not only provides the names of the couples, but their ages and street addresses as well. Contrast that with this Springfield Union article that includes occupations.
Her Parents’ Milestone Events
Now, I know you’re saying to yourself: “Gena! I don’t know her maiden name, so how can I find articles about her parents?” Milestone events like a 25th or 50th wedding anniversary, a significant birthday, or a family reunion often list children or other relatives attending the event. Because she, and possibly her husband, would be identified by her married name, you can search by that name to find these articles. Read the newspaper article carefully for the names of her parents, siblings, where the family is from, and other information that might shed light on her younger years.
This example from the Philadelphia Inquirer provides the married names of the Insingers. The newspaper reports on the Insinger family reunion honoring Albert and Anna Insinger and the 61st anniversary of their arrival in the United States. They enjoyed the company of 60 guests including their daughters Mrs. Lena Kreig and Mrs. Elizabeth Goodrich.
An obituary of a parent, a brother, or an unmarried sister might provide the maiden name you’ve been searching for. Obituaries often list survivors of the deceased, and this can include children and siblings.
This example from the Caledonian is unfortunate in that it doesn’t provide much information about the deceased – but anyone looking for the maiden name of the deceased’s daughter, Mrs. Richard Eastman of Brooklyn, New York, would learn that she was the daughter of Judge E. A. and Louisa Parks.
Her Milestone Events
Was she married for 25+ years? Did she live a nice, long life? Those life events result in newspaper articles. Often those newspaper articles include background information about the person, including the names of their parents or a maiden name – as in this example from the Kalamazoo Gazette with the announcement of the 50th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Dobbin. The last paragraph reveals that Mrs. Peter Dobbin was the former Mary J. Atwell.
It may seem like a long shot, but her obituary may provide you the answer you need. A listing of her brothers, never-married sisters, or other paternal family members will provide you the maiden surname you seek. Remember that obituaries are always a good source for information that should be further researched.
In this example from the Boston News-Letter, the deceased’s parents are not only named but so too are her mother’s parents! 93-year-old Mrs. Elizabeth Paybody is listed as the daughter of John Alden, Esq., and his wife Priscilla, who was the daughter of William Mullins. What a treasure for a family historian to find!
Obviously, not all obituaries for women are going to be this great – but you should always check for an obituary to see what information it may hold.
What’s Her Maiden Name?
While not knowing the maiden name of a female ancestor may be frustrating, you can in some cases find it by searching for her by her married name. Don’t forget to also search for her by her husband’s complete name (a.k.a., Mrs. John Smith).
Have you found a female ancestor’s maiden name using historical newspapers? Share your story with us in the comments section below.