Having only a first name listed, however, is particularly vexing and that issue generally happens with female ancestors. How many people have surname-less Abigails, Elizabeths, Sarahs, and others in their file? I'm sure I'm not the only person.
I even have one lone fellow who is nothing more than a nickname to the family members who knew of him! That's right - no first name, no last name. Just, "We called him Mac. He was in the Navy." Oh dear...
So this is why at least once or twice a year, I like to comb through every name in my database. It's a tedious process, of course. But as I add facts and focus on being more conscientious when I add names in the future, it gets easier. I usually do this after I've exhausted a large amount of time and energy trying to scale brick walls. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to finally get the facts for Jane and John Doe entered properly.
Where to start? If it is someone living after 1850, I always see what I can glean from the censuses first and then delve into vital records, cemetery records, and newspapers. If they are pre-1850, that's trickier. I look at vital records, court records, and land records in that instance.
Women's maiden names aren't a total loss, even if you can't find a marriage record or death record that gives it. Look closely at census records - one of her parents or siblings might have resided with her at some point after marriage.
Also, look at her children's birth, baptismal, marriage, or death records could give their mother's maiden name. Military records, especially pension files, could also list it, since family members might have provided affidavits in support of the pension claim.
I often look at land records, as well, especially if I'm looking at a pre-1850 family. There are plenty of instances of a married woman's father as a party to land transactions with his son-in-law. Probate records can help immensely if they list the names of family members who are paid out under the estate.
Sometimes you can even learn more about the first-name-only person by simply searching for them in records by just their first name and date range. If they have a fairly uncommon first name, this technique can be surprisingly useful.
Well, I'm off to see if I can finally discover anything about Mac, and the various Abigails, Elizabeths, Sarah and others in my database!
Copyright (c) 2016 Wendy L. Callahan