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Finding women when you only have maiden names

I was recently emailed by someone trying to locate classmates for a school reunion. For some of the female classmates, he only had a maiden name. He wasn’t sure where to start and wondered if marriage licenses were the answer. Here’s what I suggested assuming he meant a high school reunion in the United States:

My top five suggestions would be:

  1. Google the first name of the classmate plus the name of your school. Many social networks encourage people to include their schools.
  2. If the maiden last name is unusual, try the phone book (paper or online). This could get you their parents, who might tell where their daughters are.
  3. If you haven’t started the search yet, go ahead and search the maiden names. More social networks are encouraging women to include both maiden and married names to make finding them easier.
  4. Take a walk back through your yearbooks and see if you can the female classmates in group photos. If you have contact information for some of the other people in your photos, ask them about the female classmate as they might have stayed in touch.
  5. If you have Facebook information for any of your classmates, start browsing through their friends lists if they’re available to you, looking for the first name of your female classmate. I’ve found long lost relatives and classmates this way.

Thinking about marriage licenses was a good thought. Most marriage licenses in the United States are issued at the county level and usually require the payment of fees to search for them. There are a few exceptions, such as Sanpete County Utah which has a listing of marriage licenses from 1850-2011 that can be viewed at no charge.

There are likely proprietary databases constructed by the private sector where marriage license data might be searched, but I’m not familiar with any that I can recommend to you.

I think this was an ok answer, but if you have other thoughts about how to find folks when all you have is a maiden name, consider leaving a comment.


6 Responses

  1. Might try to check under the High School name and year of graduation to see if the reunion committee have their own website, contact the school itself and ask if there is a reunion committee from the year in question, (if the time from graduation is less then 5/or 10 years ago.

  2. We’ve found Facebook is by far the best means of getting people re-connected with their former classmates. Our high school has had a couple of all-class reunion picnics that have gotten over a thousand attendees. Make a Facebook page for your class: “Springfield High School, Class of 1986 Reunion.” Set up an obituary thread for those who are gone but not forgotten. Cross check the friend lists of those you already know. Check friend lists of confirmed siblings, which can be very useful for common names. Make a list of who you’d like to find, and see if anyone speaks up. Use Facebook conversations to start the ball rolling and raise the energy. And don’t take it personally if things don’t get off the ground. Some graduating years have high connectivity and motivation to get together, other classes are just sullen and misanthropic.

  3. It appears to be a tutorial that could enable stalkers to more easily track down their intended victims.

    Not sure headlining that sort of thing under a banner of ‘finding women’ is a positive development.

  4. Thanks for the suggestion. It sounds like something a lot of schools can use.

  5. Hi Bill – I was expecting a comment like yours to come up at some point. Almost any knowledge can be used for both good and evil. If we refused to talk about anything that could potentially hurt someone else, very little knowledge would be created or exchanged. In this particular case, we’d also have school reunions systematically excluding married women. Or keeping female friends from finding each other after a period of lost contact.

    To use another example, publishing government directories with addresses could be seen as a terrorist target list, but few people suggest we should wholesale classify the locations of government buildings.

    I suppose I could have titled this post “finding people whose names have changed”, but in our current culture the vast majority of name changes coming from women taking their husband’s last name.

  6. Some have concerns about how little privacy there is and some don’t seem to consider the effects of that at all. It’s not all good.

    Most people know where they went to school and if they want to connect they can always contact alumni associations or the schools themselves. I’ll call that the passive method of finding and connecting with classmates. Those that want to connect can and no one is exposed to unwanted or unnecessary data-mining, or any other type of what could be lumped into a category called harassment.

    I would tend towards a passive scenario instead of endorsing the more aggressive methods suggested here without mention of any possible downside.

    Ignoring privacy concerns isn’t without consequences, they need to be addressed, especially in this age of all-pervasive and pernicious social networking.

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