Sometimes I feel like the topic of finding a maiden name has been covered from one end to the other. As far as information being available, out there... somewhere in the world, it has been. But every day, more people start their family tree for the very first time. They don't know where all that knowledge is. In fact, I think writing about finding a maiden name is probably more valid, simply because there are so many "new" genealogists out there.
So today, I'm launching the very first Occasional Genealogist mini-course. Specifically, it's about finding maiden names, but it's also designed to show you a methodology that can be adapted to any problem you label "impossible" (also called a "brick wall" in genealogy).
Course AudienceWho's this course for? This course isn't aimed at complete beginners. You need to have done enough research to have an "impossible" problem. If you consider yourself "advanced," none of the information should be new, but you might enjoy the course as a quick refresher. It can also provide a framework for finding time to work on a problem you haven't touched in a while. [Note: this course is designed for U.S. problems, you can try it for non-U.S. problems but I have no idea how much will be applicable].
The other aspect that is special for this course is it's for Occasional Genealogists. I've done my best to make it possible to only spend 15 minutes each day. Whoa! Wondering how you'll solve an impossible problem in 15-minute bites? You won't during the course. It's a mini-course because it's five 15-minute assignments (delivered via email over five days).
I've designed five assignments to help you prep your problem. If you really only have 15 minutes each day, you will have additional prep work to do after the five days. You'll customize this additional prep to your problem and education level.
If you have more than 15 minutes, you might be ready to start researching on day six. It will depend on your education level, your problem, and how organized the information for your problem is. No matter what, the prep you do during the course leads to an actionable plan that you've customized to fit you and your problem.
Are you interested, yet? Did I mention this mini-course is free? Since this is my first course, I want to give you a chance to try it out without a financial commitment. I also don't want to deal with the headache of refunds and billing problems this first time around so lucky you, that means it's free :) If you're ready to sign-up, click here.
Why Maiden Names?Maybe you're not sure, yet. Maybe you really think your problem is impossible. Let's consider why finding a maiden name can be so difficult, but why it probably isn't impossible.
For most of the time and places we are researching our ancestors, women did not leave many, if any, records. In my own family, nearly everyone was illiterate until the 20th century, with a few exceptions. Sometimes the exception was a wife, but that didn't mean she left more records (no diaries or early letters, unfortunately). Legally, women were property for much of our genealogical time frame. Sometimes you get lucky and are researching in a time and place where your woman is at least mentioned, but she's still usually just mentioned as the wife. If she's mentioned by name, she will have her husband's surname.
None of us will have a family tree made up exclusively of women who were the exceptions to these situations. Often you will see a strong female "line" but your tree is made up of many lines. If you have prominent women who left records (or the equally useful, "disreputable" women who left records) you will also have the farmer's wife who is exceptionally ordinary, like her husband, and may not appear in any record.
Did You Really Look Everywhere?I used to write and lecture about maiden names with the subtitle "did you really look everwhere?" To me, that's the most important question for any problem that seems impossible. Genealogists use the term "brick wall" for a difficult problem but they don't always mean it's impossible, they're just stuck. I tend to use "brick wall" far too casually meaning I'm stuck after putting some effort into research. An "impossible" problem is pretty clearly a really hard problem. One you may think you "looked everywhere" to solve.
I've found most genealogists haven't even come close to looking everywhere they reasonably should. Depending on your experience level researching in the time and place for your problem, you may have barely scratched the surface.
Some inexperienced genealogists get stuck looking for records created by their ancestor or about their ancestor and nothing else. When looking for a wife, you may find information about her through her husband, but what if you don't? The more experienced genealogist will look for information about the wife through her children, too. Unfortunately, the most difficult women to research often remain in the shadows in the next generation, as well.
The CourseI've created this mini-course "Finding Her Maiden Name: An Exercise in Solving the 'Impossible' Problem," to help you tackle your hardest problems. It starts with a strong foundation---a specific genealogical question---and includes a skill review to help you evaluate which skills you need to learn more about. Without solid genealogical skills, most problems seem impossible. Occasional Genealogists often struggle because they don't have the luxury of relying on memory like frequent genealogists. To address this (in the compact format of this mini-course) I've included a session on organization options.
You will focus on a single problem during the course, which is a great time to hone your organization strategy or try something new. Although this course focuses on the problem of finding a maiden name, the technique applies to any difficult problem. Since I can't find out what each and every student's exact problem is to provide specific suggestions, I've chosen to focus on one type of difficult problem (finding a maiden name), that many genealogists encounter. This allows me to be as specific as possible. Once you apply what you've learned in the course, you should be able to answer my question, "did you really look everywhere?"
The course includes several printable forms customized to the course. You can simply write (or type) on blank paper, too. This will allow you to work on the assignments whenever you can access your email, even if you can't print the forms or forget to bring them with you. I wanted to make things flexible for you.
If you're ready to take an Occasional Genealogists approach to finding her maiden name, sign up for this free mini-course.