Thursday, September 20, 2007

Those Pesky Maiden Names

One of the hardest areas of research in any family history is identifying the maiden names of our ancestors.  So many of our female ancestors go to their reward unnamed or named in records with only their given name.  Trying to discover their surnames is sometimes a case of the proverbial 'needle in a haystack'.
How these unknown maiden names are handled in our genealogy databases vary from person to person.  Some have made the practice of using 'Unknown' as the surname.  Others have taken this a bit further and abbreviated the surname as 'Unk.'  A quick search on the internet, and Rootsweb mailing lists in particular, will show that many beginning researches have been misled and/or confused by requesting data on the 'Unk' family!  Imagine an UNK family researcher trying to wade through all of the emails and message board posts that don't relate to their family simply because of researchers using 'Unk' for a female's surname.
In the past, I have used [________] when a female's surname was unknown.  I did this to allow family members to fill in the blanks on family group sheets.  However, I've recently decided to change tactics, as my database was overwhelmed by these women without an easy way to identify who they are.
For now, I'm identifying these women by their married name in brackets.  For example, the unknown spouse of Jacob Lemasters is now Hannah [LEMASTERS].  I am hoping that this new method in my data will allow me to understand which Hannah's data I am looking at when searching the index.  It is amazing to me how many unidentified females I have in my data - each one that represents an untraced family line.
Some of the men in my database managed to marry two women with the same first name.  While I guess that would make it easy not to call your second wife by the first wife's name, it keeps my database interesting.  In these cases, I will name the women Elizabeth [SMITH] and Elizabeth [SMITH2] for simplicity sake and to be sure that I don't accidentally merge the two together.
While my system may not be perfect or meet someone else's standards, I believe that for now it will work for me.  The key will be whether or not I can use this change in method to help identify these ladies.

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