Sometimes genealogy research can come to a dead end. A name or last name is missing, which makes taking that line of the family tree back another generation very difficult. This especially happens with female relatives – societal misogyny often deemed the husband or father the more important figure in the record/s and the woman the lesser subject, meaning her surname (or sometimes her whole name) is not recorded, even on her own birth, marriage or death records.
Here are four tips to help you uncover the missing names in your family tree. While this post is more aimed at researching female ancestors, much of the advice can be applied to ancestors of any gender.
1 . Census Records
Census records tend to be more strict about recording the name and details of every household member, including children. If a girl’s name was not recorded on her birth certificate, chances are it will be recorded on the census along with her approximate age and/or place of birth. If your female ancestor was married at the time of the census, even if her maiden name is not recorded, her approximate age and/or birthplace can help narrow down a birth and/or marriage certificate match.
2 . Death Certificates:
Find the death certificates of your female relative’s children if you can and see if her name is listed. As recording methods changed and with the rise of women’s rights, record keeping with regard to women’s names became more and more exact. What was acceptable record keeping at the time of your ancestor’s birth may not have been at the end of her children’s lifetime. If your ancestor had no children or if her name is not on their death certificates, see if you can find the death records of her husband (if she was married) or her parents if you know them. Also try to track down the gravestones of her relatives, since family members were often buried within close proximity of each other.
3 . Names on other records:
If your female relative’s children were of enlistment age during a war, see if you can track down their enlistment records in case she is listed as next of kin.
Another option is to see if you can track down the baptism, marriage and death certificates of the woman’s relatives and in-laws (if she had any). Do any names commonly appear as a godparent or witness? If there are no other relatives or people who match that name on the record and if the name is plausible for your relative (e.g. same surname to parents, husband or children etc.) you may have found your match!
I like to be very careful about this method though and use it as a last resort, since neighbors or people working or volunteering in the place where the record was made (e.g. a church) or other people not necessarily connected to my family were sometimes brought in to witness a document.
4 . Common Family Names
Look for the names given to the daughters and/or granddaughters of your female ancestor. If they had no children, look at names that repeat a lot in that line of the family if possible to give you an idea. For example, if only her surname is recorded on her birth record and you are trying to sort through several possible marriage records, knowing the names popular in her family can point you in the right direction. As with the previous tip, be very careful with this option as in different eras and areas there was a lot of overlap with names that were common in that time, place or culture. Cross reference wherever possible.
Scotland had a traditional naming system for centuries. I have written a blog post about it HERE.
I hope these tips have helped you locate a missing female ancestor in your tree. It’s a topic I am very passionate about and look forward to talking about more 🙂