Finding female ancestors can be tough. These recommended record sets and tips should make it easier

Finding female ancestors can be a tricky business and brings with it its own special set of problems. One of the most common difficulties you'll face is the fact that traditionally, women nearly always take their husband's family name when married. This can be further complicated by the changing nature of woman's legal and social status at various points in history. Despite all this, there are still plenty of good resources available.

Here are a few of the most useful collections for tracking down elusive female forbears.


Finding a maiden name is usually the first step when researching a particular female line and, as you might expect, the best way of doing this is finding a marriage record. General Register Office records are perhaps the most easily accessible online source of births, marriages and deaths as they are easy to search, cover the whole of England & Wales, and date all the way back to 1837 when civil registration was introduced.

While GRO marriage index records will always include your ancestor's maiden name, GRO birth index entries only record the mother's maiden name after 1911. GRO Index records will provide you with the information you need to access an original certificate. Certificates include far more detail and will list the full names of both parents. It's important to remember, however, that the details available are only as reliable as the person filling it in at the time, so be prepared for some inaccuracies.


Parish records are also excellent for uncovering maternal lines. Parish marriages list the full names of both the bride and groom and many will include the bride's residence, father's name and father's occupation. The names of witnesses can also prove useful because there is a strong chance they pertain to previously unknown relatives.


Search every census during your ancestor's lifetime. If you don't yet know your ancestor's maiden name, census returns will reveal the year they were born and their place of birth, information that can then be used to hunt for a birth or marriage record.

If you aren't having much luck, broaden your search and look for relatives. It was common for young newlyweds to live with parents and you may find an older, widowed female relative living with one of her children


Women may show up in the pages with recipes, sewing hints, ladies' club news and gossip columns. Also look for obituaries and family notices such as birth and wedding announcements, as well as notices of desertions, divorces, immigration and bankruptcies.


Monumental inscriptions can reveal surprising amounts of detail about the lives of your female ancestors. They can reveal a maiden or married name and the information recorded in nearby plots may pertain to relatives.

Inscriptions can tell you the last place your ancestor lived, family relationships, middle and maiden names, and dates of birth and death. We've got a variety of monumental inscriptions from around the UK, including the Billion Graves Cemetery Index.

Military Pensions

A woman could file for a military pension when her husband or unmarried son died of war-related injuries. Military service records usually list the details of the serviceman's next of kin and many also include details of their pension payments. If these payments went to wives or children, their names, addresses and the amount they received will be recorded in full.

Other Sources

If you are still struggling to find a maiden name, you may need to get a bit more imaginative with your research. Family heirlooms may reveal the clues you need to continue in your search. You can find maiden names in old letters, diaries, family Bibles, on wedding invitations, written on the back of old photographs and even on old needlework samplers.

Find Out if Your Female Ancestor Was a Criminal