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Volume 4, Number 19 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 November 14, 2012
Author's Notes In this article we discuss finding the family name of a female in early records. It can be quite a challenge and is definitely like working a puzzle trying to find the missing pieces. Hopefully, you will find something that sparks another thought below. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at email@example.com. As always, we enjoy hearing the comments after each newsletter.
James L. Douthat
Granny, Where Are You?
Trying to find the family name of a female in the early records presents quite a challenge. The females name is not always given in most of the records including the marriage records. This is where the rubber hits the road for researchers. How do you locate this illusive name?
You may or may not have the marriage record, and if you do, sometimes the last name is not given. There are records beyond the marriage records that might have the name you are searching. You will notice in the pre-1850 census that only the head of the household is given. These early census are little help, except the 1840 census. In a close search of the 1840 census, always look at page two of the census. The vast majority stop with page one with the only names given, however, on page two there might be another name. If the ancestor was a veteran of the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812, they are listed in the family line on the page with their age given. Sometimes this name is the same as on page one and may or may not be the head of the household which would indicate the head of the household’s father. Now if the veteran listed has a different surname, this might indicate the wife’s father who would be living in her household. This can be just a theory until proven, but it is a start.
The next biggest place to look is in the Deed Records. I just finished collecting deeds for my wife’s family and in one of the deeds there was a note of great interest. The particular property was sold to the man of interest by a couple who state “for the love of our daughter” and then named the wife of the man of interest. In this deed, dating from the mid-1840s, gave the name of the wife and the name of her parents. This is when you shout out loud in the courthouse and all of the staff come running to see if the rats or bats have come after you. You know all courthouses have them, just some more than others.
You may have to collect all of the deeds in a particular courthouse for the time period to find them. In reading the deeds, you will sometimes run across a note that says a particular piece of property is adjacent to so and so or even several persons. Make a particular note of these people. There is no evidence that they might be the parents of the wife, but on the other hand, one of them might be the parents or other relatives to the couple. Seldom did the couple just go off and stake out a claim. There were real reasons why that particular piece of ground was chosen.
If you are lucky enough to have a family Bible, you might need to look in there. Those who kept the records knew who they were talking about and many times were not clear about names and even dates so that one hundred years later it is still a mystery. Do you find letters or diaries? These are a great source of information. Don’t overlook the “out of the box” sources such as store ledgers or post office notes. I have seen store ledgers that refer to Mrs. Jones, my daughter or something as this. Even tax lists sometimes will give the name of the taxpayers and then add the note “of so and so”. This is to distinguish all of the John or Jane Smiths from all of the others in the county.
Now there are also the wills our ancestors left behind. The court house does not always index every name given in a will. You have to read the entire Will Book to find that one tidbit. This is where an abstract or a transcription of the wills comes in handy. These are usually indexed with all of the names. If you find the name listed, make sure that you go back to the original book to verify the entry. The sad thing about wills is that the father might die before the girl is married and just list her as her given name with no husband. In some wills, the grandfather/grandmother mention their grandchildren by name without mentioning the daughter. This is a great clue.
Sometimes, there might be an obituary either in a local newspaper or in a church paper. Many of the churches in the 19th century ran lengthy obituaries for church members all across their geographic region. Many of these were statewide and some were national in scope.
It all comes down to the fact that you have to know the local history and understand the geography of the area where your ancestors live. Know the schools, churches, stores/mills as well as the communities. Seldom do you find a family living outside all other organizations influence. Research is not just collecting ancestors, but knowing the time and place they lived. Know their neighbors as well since they are usually interconnected.
If you have any questions or suggestions for future editions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.