Archive for May, 2020

This week I would have been teachingFree money
“Free Online Archives and Libraries” however,
since the FamilySearch Center is still closed, and I am still “sort of” grounded, I will give any British Isles Researchers one more temporarily free records site.

Because of the COVID 19 pandemic The National Archives [TNA] at Kew is temporarily closed, so for at least a few months, they have decided to make their digital records free to download.  Go to  The National Archives, and you will see a banner at the top of the page, which will lead you to the ‘free access to digital records’. Create your sign in and you are ready to explore and download from their digital archives.

Not all of their digital records are downloadable, but you will be able to find the ones that are downloadable by going to the Home page and clicking on ‘Help with your research’. This will get you started. A shortlist of digital records includes:

  • First and Second World Ward records
  • Military records including unit war diaries, and prisoner of war records
  • Doomsday Book
  • Maps
  • Chancery court records
  • Wills from 1384 -1858
  • Links to other collection sites

As with all archives, it will be worthwhile to first explore and learn out how to use the site. Make sure you download any records that you find worthwhile for your research and collect the source information.  One thing to keep in mind with this site is that if you want to look for a name, you will need to do that within a specific collection, so you will need to find the collection first.

It has been sort of bitter/sweet to be stuck at home, with free access to sites I normally would have to pay for. Use this time wisely and stay safe.


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GirlsIf the FamilySearch Center were not still closed, I would be teaching a class this week on Finding Women’s Names. While I can’t give the entire class in a blog article,  I may be able to give you a few clues if you are trying to locate the maiden name of one of your female ancestors. It can be so frustrating to find your ancestor only to have her identified as Mrs. David Shepherd. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a birth or marriage record, where can you look for a woman’s maiden name?

  • Death Certificate. These are mostly found after 1900, but while she would be listed under her married name, her parents may be mentioned in the record. If they are not identified, then look on the certificate for where your ancestor was buried. You can visit the cemetery either online or in person. If her maiden name is not on her headstone, check to see who is buried near her. These are generally family members. You can also locate the actual burial records through the cemetery sexton, or the person responsible for burials. There is usually more information in the burial records than will fit on a headstone.
  • Obituaries. A woman’s parents may be named. If they are not named, look for the names of any brothers to identify her maiden name. You will also want to look for obituaries and death records for those people named in her obituary. Read all documents carefully.
  • Online Trees. Someone may already have solved your problem – but be very, very careful, and only use trees that have good sources and documents attached.
  • Census. If you find your ancestor in 1880 with her husband and listed with his name, where was she in 1870 or 1850. If the census states that the family stayed in the same area, you can search for her by her first name. It isn’t as hard as it sounds. I found Mary Jane (?) Johnson in Whitehall NY on the 1855 State census. She said she had always lived in the area, so I did a search for just Mary Jane. I found her listed as Mary Jane Kibbe, living a couple of doors down from her future husband. A check for the will of her father Moses gave me the names of all of his children and their spouses, including Mary Jane.
  • Land Records. This may depend on the country your ancestors lived in, but in the United States and England, a wife owned 1/3 dower rights to any of her husband’s property. If he wanted to sell his land, his wife would need to be interviewed and give her consent in order to ‘clear the title’. While you may not always get the maiden name, you will get her first name, and the land description, which can be looked at in context with neighbors’ lands, where you can often find family.
  • Naming Patterns of children. Yes, everyone has the same name; however, you may find names that are generally thought of as surnames among her children. These should be checked carefully. Amanda and Allen Joseph Stout gave all of her 14 children as one of each one’s name the name ‘Fisk’. My g-grandmother was named Lydia Mariah Fisk Stout. Guess what her mother’s maiden name was?


While we could talk about the Social Security Death Index and DNA and a host of other records, I’ll save those for another day.

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