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Ask-the-Pros – Question and Answer – Finding Great-grandmother


I am having trouble determining who my ggrandmother was. She is listed in the home of my ggrandfather in 1860, but she has a different last name. She was listed on my grandfathers death certificate as his mother, under the same name as when she was in my ggrandfather’s house. We can find her nowhere else in the census, and no marriage license. Any suggestions.


Unfortunately, the question did not include some vital information needed to give a helpful answer. It is important when you do ask a question to include enough information for the expert to help. In this case, it would be useful to know where this person lived. Source records are almost always associated with a particular geographic jurisdiction, such as the town, county, state or Federal government. Absent more specific information, the question can still be answered in part.

It appears that the researcher has likely confused a mother-in-law or the Great-grandfather’s own mother, living in the household with the wife. The wife could have had the same name as her mother and even the same surname as a middle name, although middle names are not always recorded on a U.S. Census record. She could even have had the same name as her husband’s mother. Though this is very unlikely.

The 1860 U.S. Census contained the following fields:

1 Dwelling-houses—numbered in the order of visitation.
2 Families numbered in the order of visitation
3 The name of every person whose usual place of abode on the first date of June, 1860, was in this family.
4 Description: Age.
5 Description: Sex. M or F
6 Description: Color, {White, black, or mulatto. W, B or M
7 Profession, Occupation, or Trade of each person, male and female, over 15 years of age.
8 Value of Estate Owned: Value of Real Estate.
9 Value of Estate Owned: Value of Personal Estate.
10 Place of Birth, Naming the State, Territory, or Country.
11 Married within the year. Marked with ‘/’
12 Attended School with the year. Marked with ‘/’
13 Persons over 20 years of age who can not read and write. Marked with ‘/’
14 Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.

See Wikipedia: 1860 U.S. Census

The lack of a marriage license is readily explainable. Very few current U.S. jurisdictions recorded marriages in the 1860s. That is one reason why knowing the location is so important. If this couple lived in a state such as Ohio, marriages were recorded from the time of the county formation with some counties formed as late as the 1850s. But it is unlikely that a “marriage certificate” was issued until much later. Some states, such as Arizona, did not start recording marriages until 1864. Some of the alternate records that can be used to establish a marriage include:

  • Church records
  • Cemetery records
  • Local histories
  • Newspapers
  • Military records
  • Land records

With more information it would be possible to suggest other places to search.

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