Researching female ancestors poses special challenges, and one of those is identifying their married names. Even if you’ve found a girl in her parents’ household in a census record, she may seem to disappear into thin air after she marries. Without her husband’s surname, you might not be able to locate her in later census, land, death, and burial records.
A natural first step is to look for a marriage record. If you find one, you’re off and running. But if you don’t, try other options. Some death indexes, such as “Ohio Deaths 1908-1953” on FamilySearch.org, index by father’s name (if reported on the death certificate) as well as by name of the deceased. So you may be able to find a daughter’s death certificate by entering her father’s name in the search box. This will reveal her married name at the time of her death. Another excellent place to look for daughters’ married names is in the father’s will or estate settlement.
But one of my favorite ways to uncover married names is through obituaries. Newspaper obituaries are such a potentially rich source of information that it’s worth the effort to track them down. Granted, I’ve found my share of single-line death notices that reveal virtually no information. But when you find a good one, it can be a gold mine.
Search for obituaries of the woman’s father, mother, and known siblings. If more than one paper was published in the locality at that particular time, it’s usually worthwhile to check them all. Don’t discount the small weekly papers that circulated news in rural areas. They can be even more informative than the big urban dailies.
In the following obituary for my great-grandfather, John Llewellyn Eberhard, I found the married names of his eleven daughters:
EBERHARD—John L, age 78, at his home in Galena, Tuesday. Survived by his wife, Mary; 11 daughters, Mrs. Eva Wilt, Mrs. Nora Ballenger, Mrs. Blanch Hendrix of Columbus, Mrs. Mable Dixon, Mrs. Irma Hollis of Sunbury, Mrs. Emma Hollis and Mrs. Carrie Hollis of Westerville, Mrs. Anna Fichtelman of Westerville, Mrs. Bertha Milton of Newark, Ohio, Mrs. Georgia Garee of Galena, Mrs. Mildred Gilliland of Hawaii; 4 sons, Roy of Columbus, Harold of Westerville, Enoch of Johnstown and Robert of Johnstown; 31 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.1
That’s a lot of names! But even if the obituary you find gives only one, it’s still a bridge to other records. Better yet, obituaries often state relationships directly (son, daughter, brother, sister, etc.), and can be used to tie families together in the absence of vital records. So the next time you’re stumped for a woman’s married name, try hunting for the obituaries of her parents or siblings. You never know what you might find there.
1. Obituary of John L. Eberhard, Columbus Evening Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio), 12 September 1946, p. 6A.
© Shelley Bishop 2012