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Using Obituaries to Find Married Names

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.

 

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

 

About Shelley Bishop

Shelley Bishop, owner of Buckeye Family Trees (http://www.buckeyefamilytrees.com/), enjoys tracing and telling the stories of lost ancestors. She specializes in Ohio research. Shelley shares discoveries, tips, and resources at her blog, A Sense of Family (http://www.asenseoffamily.com/). She has published articles in several magazines, and writes about genealogy education for The In-Depth Genealogist.

6 comments

  1. Great post Shelley!

    I have been mining obits this way for years. It is more often than not the best, first lead in relocating ‘lost’ daughters in some of my southern families.

  2. I so enjoy reading your posts. Valuable info for all of us. Thanks!

  3. You give three solid suggestions: marriage records, (some) death indexes, and the “gold standard” of obituaries. I’m just getting into finding obituaries, and newspaper research seems to involve luck as well as diligence–finding those smaller newspapers. I’ve got a folder of obituaries, clipped out of the local papers by my family who live in the same area our ancestors lived in. They’ve been clipping obituaries since long before I started any research! Thank you for this post, Shelley.

  4. This is terrific! I have a family in my husband’s line that has 10 children – seven of whom are females. Ugh! I was stuck, but now have a whole bunch of ideas on how to pursue the ladies. thanks!

  5. Depending on the newspapers style guide and the time frame, obits can list daughters by their first names only. Or, they’ll be identified as Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, etc. If you’re lucky, they also list pallbearers. When I’ve traced the pallbearers, I’ve hit pay dirt in the form of marriages. That is, sons-in-law serving. In addition, you can find grandsons serving too, which allows you to backtrack into a marriage. I used to ignore the pallbearers. Now I look up everyone of ‘em.

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