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My great grandmother, who I know only as Jennie Maria, was born in Michigan in 1846 and married my great Grandfather there in Lenawee county about 1867.

According to what I have found out, the courthouse with the records for that time burned down.

I know she had a sister and they were both living in colorado in 1880 with their husbands.

How can I find Jennie Maria's maiden name??

  • Welcome to Genealogy.SE. We are all working together to learn how to develop good questions for the new Q&A format. I have edited your question title and made some modest changes to the body. You will want to sure it still conveys your essence. – GeneJ Oct 24 '12 at 17:06
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    How certain are you that the courthouse burned? I'm looking at the Dibean Marriage Index for Lenawee County Michigan (link follows). In just the first batch I reviewed, there are indexed marriages reported for dates as early as 1843. files.usgwarchives.net/mi/lenawee/vitals/marriages/dbn – GeneJ Oct 24 '12 at 17:27
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If I understand your question, you are saying that the court house that contained birth and marriage records for your great grandmother burned down. Have you looked in the county where they died for records? Sometimes the death certificate will have the mother's name on it as well.

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On the specific question of finding a woman's maiden name, see the answers to the question How to find wife's maiden name in New England in the 1700s?

There are many things you can do to research questions from "burned" counties or other cases where records have been lost. All of these techniques can be productive things to do even if you already have the common, easy-to-find records; they can help confirm the fact that you are researching the right person and not someone else with the same name, and they enrich the picture of how your family lived.

Take a look at the articles I've listed at the bottom of this answer and you'll see there are still lots of records you could look for. What next?

  1. Oh, the courthouse burned? Who says so? Don't assume that just because someone said that the courthouse burned, they are right. Investigate further. You say that that records are lost for that time period; the same applies.
  2. Look for any record copies that might have been sent elsewhere, e.g. to local, state, or regional archives.
  3. Make a list of everything you have already found, assembled in chronological order. Write a mini-biography of that person. Now mine that profile for specific things that you can do more research about. Your subject has a sister -- that's great! Records about siblings are a great way to find out a mom's maiden name.
  4. Make a research log and a research plan. Elizabeth Shown Mills' QuickLesson 20: Research Reports for Research Success gives a good overview of the research cycle, and talks about how preparation can help our research. Form specific research questions and record the progress you make on each one, including negative search results. Record every find you make as you go. List every document you find that mentions your subject. If you haven't looked at research managers like @ColeValleyGirl's GenQuiry (no longer in development) or document-based software like Evidentia, Clooz, or Custodian, these can be good tools to catalog and analyze what you find while you are deciding if those records really belong to your research subject.
  5. Research the places your family has lived, and study not only the family, but friends, associates, neighbors -- what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls the FAN principle. See her QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle. If you find your subject was a witness on someone else's marriage records, you might discover that they and their associate were both members of the same church; church records might have a marriage record that would give you the information you are looking for.
  6. Map the area. Are you sure your couple got married in the burned county? People often traveled to the county courthouse in the county next door, because it was easier to get to than the county seat in their own county. Also, if you don't know the history of the county -- when it was formed, and what county was its parent county, or what counties may have split off from it afterwards -- now is a good time to check.
  7. Look for other researchers who have studied the same area. Reading case histories of other researchers is a good way to discover record types and ways of searching that you haven't thought of yet, and people who are familiar with the geographical area may have knowledge of local resources that a general article about burned county research won't cover.
  8. Gather as much material as you can on the person, their siblings and other close family, their FAN (or "cluster"), and the geographical area -- you have to look at everything you can, because there's no way to know in advance which piece of evidence might lead you to the answer. Probate records, church records, and newspapers can be especially valuable, but make it a game to try and discover as many records as you can find. Don't neglect court record books (minute books) and land records -- sometimes people had to prove that they were married in order to execute other legal proceedings (like transferring a deed) and the marriage date and place can be recorded along with those other records. Deeds were often the first records to be re-created after the courthouse burned.

Think of it as a treasure hunt -- it's fun!

Other resources:

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The FamilySearch collection Michigan, Marriages, 1822-1995 includes marriages from Lenawee County from the 1850's, so it is possible that record of your great grandmother's marriage can be found after all. Search by your grandfather's name.

Your great grandmother's death certificate may provide her maiden name and parents' names. A death record for any of her children is likely to include her maiden name.

Good luck in your search!

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If there are any birth records you can access for her children, then they may give her maiden name.

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