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Archived Articles
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Published September 10, 1999

Women in Your Tree, Part II - Building on two primary rules of researching women ancestors
By Sandra Devlin

This nine part series was the winning entry in the 2000 Online Columns/Articles category of the Council of Genealogy Columnists (since renamed the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors). The award was presented at the National Genealogy Society annual convention in Providence, Rhode Island, USA

This column is the second (Part I) in a series dedicated to encouraging genealogists to focus a concerted effort to include their women ancestors, as well as the male lines. The general principles discussed about avenues to search for female ancestors -- conventional and otherwise -- will apply nationwide, not just to Maritime families. Even the references in the final segment will be more general than usual, although some will be specifically Maritime.

The first column left off with the two prime rules for researching female lines, namely:

Prime Rule #1 - You must always be prepared to read between the lines and be open to discovering obscure clues in non-traditional places.

Prime Rule #2 - You must accumulate clues, analyze clues and follow the paths to which these clues lead until at last you have gathered enough clues to deduce the logical answer.

Actually once you get the hang of it, searching for female lines is a lot of fun and the reward of finding a surname after months or even years of searching is ever-the-more sweet for the agony and frustration experienced along the way.

My newest grandson (born June 16) was given the middle name Vernon. He is the sixth in successive generations to have this name -- originally the surname of his great-great-great-grandmother. Through the generations Vernon was paired with the surnames: England (twice), Devlin (twice) and now it will be carried on with Arsenault.

This is an excellent example of an obscure clue, which after exhaustive research and careful analysis can supply the missing piece to the puzzle -- (Enough with the metaphors, you say?)

Of course it is splendid to discover that a child, sometimes all the children, of one family group were given their mother's maiden name as a middle name.

Certain families tended to do this as a tradition. I have noted it often in families of British origin. In a major family project I am in the midst of, the mother's surname was used as a middle name in almost every family group encountered. I am back to the late 1700s in Devon, England and it is still happening. God bless them!

But never be tempted to stop at supposing the name is the mother's maiden name. Other middle names which sound like surnames may be the maternal or paternal grandmother's or one of the maternal great-grandparent's surnames.

In the late-19th Century Maritimes there was also a tendency to give children of families, particularly boys, the surname-middle name of an admired preacher, doctor or even a politician of the followed ilk. Crandall, Dimock, Blakney or Chipman as given or middle names in New Brunswick in the late-19th and early-20th centuries may denote a family connection; or it might simply be a fervent Baptist family's way to honour an evangelical circuit preacher who roused their religious zeal to such a pitch that they wished to name a child after him.

Civil registrations are often a big help by naming the mother's maiden name on birth; bride's father in marriages and both father and mother with maiden name at death. In marriage records, don't overlook the surnames of the witnesses. In baptism records, note the names of the godparents or sponsors.

All of these surnames will give you a clue about where else to search for further clues to an elusive maiden name for a mother/wife.

Even the traditional census records can be helpful, especially in small rural areas. For years I was stymied trying to discover the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother Catherine who married Jonathan Bleakney.

From the census records, age of their eldest child and logic I could deduce their marriage date within the time frame of a few years after the 1851 census, when Jonathan was still single and living at home with his father Chambers and step-mother Sarah. Happily Jonathan and Catherine lived with Jonathan's parents when they were first married and show up there in the 1861 census in the rural community which was not exactly over populated.

Having exhausted the effort to learn Catherine's maiden name by traditional means -- there were no clues in the family Bible. None of her children's births were in civic records of the era. They were Baptists, so there were no christening records to explore. A death certificate could not be located for my great-grandmother; nor were her burial records of any help, either -- I had to dig a little deeper.

One of her sons was named Dimock Crandall. Was this a clue? Aware that Dimock and Crandall were revered Baptist icons, I decided to put this option low on the priority.

Back I went to the 1851 census for Elgin, Albert County, New Brunswick to search for any Catherine who would be of the right age to be courted by Jonathan Bleakney. In the 1850s in backwoods New Brunswick a young lad was apt to find his spouse within a five-mile radius. On foot, the first option of young male suitors, five miles over narrow, dusty back roads or even narrower snow-packed rut trails, was just about the limit of Cupid's endurance. As luck would have it, there were not that many Catherines. Then all of them were accounted for except one Catherine Geldart. Could it be?

Next through inter-library loan I borrowed the PANS microfilm index for Late Registrations of Births, 1810-1887. As luck would have it my great-great-uncle Oliver, as an adult, registered his birth -- perhaps he needed it to collect a pension or to migrate to the Boston States. For whatever reason, his late birth registration stated his mother's maiden name as Geldart.

Aha! Two pieces of relatively convincing data from solid primary sources.

Back to census, this time 1871 where I found Catherine Bleakney living as a widow with the four youngest of her seven children in the household of James Horsman, whose wife Ruth was of an age to be a sister to Catherine. It was logical that a sister and brother-in-law would willingly house a younger widowed sister and dependent. Hardly conclusive by itself, but added in with the other information, I felt I was on the right track.

Finally, after making contact with long-lost cousins in New England through a query in the Blakney Family Association newsletter, an 80+ -year-old first cousin, twice removed advised that her grandmother (my great-great) was Catherine Geldart.

Three-and-a-half independent sources of information all leading to the same conclusion -- then, I was satisfied that I could finally fill in the blank for Catherine's maiden name.

There remains a mystery in this family group which I have yet to solve -- whatever happened to the three eldest children -- Eliza Ann born circa 1854; Dimock Crandall, circa 1855 and Eda Esther, circa 1857? Did they move to the States and lose track of the family? Did they die young?

Another mystery, for another day.

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