All too often it seems I have a family in New England in the 1700s where I know the father and several children but only have a given name for the mother in the family. (The children's birth records usually seem not to give mother's maiden surname.) If one has searched for, and failed to find, the relevant marriage record in "global" indicies like on FamilySearch, and in the available town and church records for the likely localities of the marriage, what other approaches might uncover the missing name?

  • I have had good luck with the New England town records/vital records in the 1700s, so I am curious to understand a little better about your plight. Is there something unique about your circumstance? Are these immigrating families? Have you checked with the town clerk to learn if the records are extant (as in not burned or lost)?
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 15:43
  • A range of dates and locations might help.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 16:04

6 Answers 6


Since I somewhat know the family migration patterns, I don't do many global searches. Most of the time, though, I have been able to locate a marriage record that provides the wife's maiden name.

My research covers mostly Massachusetts (outside of Boston), New Hampshire and Vermont, perhaps a 30 towns between them.

In the case of one New Hampshire town, we couldn't find the maiden name in the vital record book, but based on my phone call, the town clerk found the maiden name have been recorded in what was the earlier town clerks' book.

Depending on the date of your "voids," and whether or not any of the children settled at Massachusetts, know that those the Massacusetts marriage and death records post 1845/50 often/generally report the mothers name; I believe where she was born, too. Some of the other locations follow suit, but for me that is still later and/or spotty.

I have found that while all the record indexing is fairly good, there are some variations between what I find in these vital record collections at FamilySearch, American Ancestors, Ancestry.com, etc. (There is also a separate site with Massachusetts town records.) This means that if I find a negative search on the index of one set, I will generally check the collection on another site.

Scholarly journals. You likely have searched The Register. Depending on how the families migrated, you may want to research the New Hampshire Genealogical Record.

Court records. My success with these records has mostly involved Essex County, Massachusetts.

Last but not least, local or archival libraries. Particularly in New Hampshire and Vermont, I have located exceptional records/notes in family files.


There's no one trick, but here are some additional sources to consider:

  • probate records - John Smith's will bequeathing to his daughter Mary Jones
  • naming patterns - William Jones Smith's mother's maiden name could be Jones
  • gravestone inscriptions
  • gravestone groupings
  • lateral searches - siblings may have married siblings, neighbors could be from related families or have migrated along the same routes

Don't assume that an exhaustive search can be done on the Internet, even in this day and age. It can be slog, but with a little perseverance, most of these cases are solvable.


You may require some luck, but in my part of the world (which is not New England) sometimes the woman's children or grandchildren will have a middle name that looks more like a surname and may be hers. Similarly, if any wills or other old documents tie members of the woman's immediate family to names that are likely to belong to other relatives, then their surnames may be candidates for hers too.


Via a Google Search, I found a page on the Family Search Wiki that has several reference articles on researching women ancestors.

Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters-Tracing Women offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at [email protected]

Of the references listed there, I am most familiar with this book:

Schaefer, Christina Kassabian, The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1999).

For each of the 50 states, the author provides a timeline for important dates in state history, changes in the laws governing marriage and divorce, property and inheritance. She suggests where to look for records, offers a bibliography, and lists resources for studying women's history. Massachusetts is covered on pages 141-145, and the introductory material, including "how to use this book", discusses the problem of searching for records pertaining to women.

Whenever I get stuck, I like to read case histories from other people looking in the same place and time period to get clues from their descriptions of how they solved their problems. Books and articles like this, and others where genealogists detail their own research, can be a good place to get ideas of how to search.

Most of the time, I learn maiden names of women by finding records which list people in family groups -- anything which is likely to name a person along with the names of their daughters, their parents, or their sisters (both married and single). Probate records and other court documents can be especially useful, as well as newspapers.


If you have early New England ancestors, you are lucky. The Puritans and Pilgrims were record keepers. They recorded vital information in church books, clerk's offices, quarterly court records, probate records, journals, and family Bibles.


I usually go hunting for the record of marriage...I have family from all over MA. The Vital Records are avail online to look at for most places in MA....and any not yet done you can find another source to look at that towns book...


  • 1
    Hi Laurie; welcome to the site. Your answer could be improved by spelling out (rather than abbreviating) the location, Massachusetts. Some rewriting to eliminate the elipses would also be an improvement.
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 18:51

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