DIG: Is that your Middle name?

In my research I see initials used for relative's names on a regular basis. A lot of times the census taker was just being quick or lazy and not taking the time to enter in a full name thinking it wasn't important, but sometimes he or she has taken the time to add in a middle initial to the census record.

A lot of times this can lead to a breakthrough and help identify one relative from a group of people by the same name. But it can also be misleading... especially with women.

I've seen it over and over again. Years of census records are searched where you are following your 3x great grandmother "Maria Simons" through her life. She's with her parents in the 1850's and 60's. Then with her husband and family in the 1870s and 80's under the name "Maria Christian". You find her at the turn of the century listed under the name "Maria S. Christian". OMG a breakthrough! We have a middle initial, right? Well, most likely not. This has happened to me multiple times where I know my ancestor's middle name for certain and I see another initial listed under the middle name.... so what happened? Is the census taker mistaken? Is this the clue we've been looking for?

It's a clue alright, but not to a middle name, it's to their MAIDEN name! That's why you may find that the census taker never bothered to record middle initials for the other members of the family and only the matriarch. So if you're stuck tracing a female family member back to before she was married, the census just may provide the clue you need to locate that maiden name.

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