Mothers’ maiden names

This information is crucial to genealogical research – knowing what family a female ancestor came from is necessary when you want to take a family line back another generation.

For England and Wales, maiden names can be found in the GRO index for births after 1912 and increasingly for births back to 1837. Here it is important to appreciate that the name recorded is the first surname that a woman had, not just her previous surname (relevant if she had been married more than once). If the surname of the child and the mother’s maiden name are the the same, this usually, but by no means always, indicates a child born to an unmarried woman. Bear in mind that the registrar might have deliberately or accidentally been given false information – it was not necessary in the past to produce documentary evidence when registering a birth.

Other ways of discovering a woman’s maiden name are:
– Finding, say, a mother-in-law in a census return listed in a household in which a married man is recorded as the head. The mother-in-law’s surname is a good clue to his wife’s maiden name.
– Observing that a second forename might be from a surname, as in a boy baptised Benjamin Yeo Westaway. It is quite likely that Yeo was his mother’s or grandmother’s maiden name.

Please use the Contact Us page to share your tips on discovering mothers’ maiden names.

Some people consider ‘maiden name’ an inappropriate term and prefer ‘original surname’ or ‘birth surname’.

Martyn Yeo


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