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7 Tips for Finding Maiden Names of Female Ancestors

Toni Carrier
by Toni Carrier

What Was Her Maiden Name?

Soon after beginning your African American genealogy research, you will encounter a predictable roadblock – in order to take your female ancestors’ lines back in generations, you must learn their maiden names.  This can be a sticky research problem, but here are some tips to get you started on finding maiden names.

1. Search Marriage Records

This one seems obvious, right? Many marriage records list the maiden name of the bride. Some even contain the names of the bride’s parents. When searching marriage records, start by searching for the groom’s name, then cross your fingers. You may learn a lot about the family of the bride.

Included with the marriage record for Tillman Smalls and Edna McCall of Newbern, NC is a form wherein Edna’s parents Fellie and Beatrice McCall give consent for their daughter to marry:



Consent to Marry for Edna McCall

Parental Consent for Edna McCall to Marry Tillman Smalls, 1949.

“Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939Z-YXTX-N?cc=1803936&wc=7126-8DY%3A1590063549%2C1590063593 : 14 October 2016), Broward County > Marriage licenses and applications, 1949-1950, book 43-45 > image 162 of 2518; county courthouses, Florida.

2. Search Newspapers for a Wedding Announcement

If you are not able to find a marriage record for a female ancestor, try searching local newspapers for a wedding announcement. Remember that a single event in your ancestor’s life may produce multiple records.


Pope J.L. and Josephene E. Smith Marriage Notice 1897 Raleigh NC Gazette

Wedding Announcement, Marriage of J.L. Pope and Josephine Smith, 1896.

The gazette. (Raleigh, N.C.), March 06, 1897, Image 2. Image provided by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, Chapel Hill, NC. Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83027097/1897-03-06/ed-1/seq-2/.

3. Search Obituaries

Obituaries for your female ancestor or other members of her family may include your ancestor’s maiden name. Obituaries for your ancestor’s children may also reveal the maiden name you are seeking. In the example below, we learn that Elizabeth Murphy was the daughter of Jobe and Vicey Washington.


Obituary Elizabeth Murphy

Obituary for Elizabeth Murphy, 1945.

Obituary, Elizabeth Murphy, Charleston Evening Post, Tuesday, July 10, 1945, p. 13. 

4. Gather Your Family’s Funeral Programs

Is there a member of your family who keeps the funeral programs for your family? Consult that family member immediately! Funeral programs can reveal a wealth of information about your family members. Often the simple step of gathering your family’s funeral programs can forge major inroads in your family research.

5. Search Death Records

Death records sometimes contain the names of parents. In the example below, Albertha Gilliard’s death certificate states that her parents were John Scott and Hager Boykin. From this record, we not only learn Albertha Gilliard’s maiden name, but that of her mother as well.


Albertha Gilliard Death Cert 1944

Death Certificate, Albertha Gilliard, 1944.

“South Carolina Deaths, 1915-1965,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FGB3-3W9 : 18 April 2016), Albertha Gilliard, 11 Dec 1944; citing , Gilliard, Albertha, 1944, Department of Archives and History, State Records Center, Columbia; FHL microfilm 1,943,940.

6. Look for an Elderly Parent in the Household

In the example below, we see Susan Jenkins, widowed, in the household of her daughter Janie Martin in the 1940 US Census. Further research may corroborate the suggestion that Janie’s maiden name was Jenkins.



Widowed Mother Susan Jenkins in Household of Janie Martin, 1940 US Census.

Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Year: 1940; Census Place: Blake, Colleton, South Carolina; Roll: T627_3801; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 15-4. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. T627, 4,643 rolls.

7. Search the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index

If you are a member of Ancesty.com, you can search the database “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.” In the following example, we see Annie Green’s parents listed as Carolina Fields and Chitta Brown.


Name: Annie Fields Green
[Annie Fields Fields] 
Gender: Female
Race: Black
Birth Date: 11 Feb 1892
Birth Place: Yemassee, South Carolina
Father: Carolina Fields
Mother: Chitta Brown
Type of Claim: Original SSN.
Notes: Aug 1940: Name listed as ANNIE FIELDS GREEN

Annie Fields Green in the U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007.

Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Original data: Social Security Applications and Claims, 1936-2007.

These are just a few tips for finding maiden names. Do you have a tip to share as well? Please share in the comments section below!

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