Finding All of the Daughters in the Family Tree

It's a good idea to research all of the children in a family, rather than just the child from whom you descend. But how do you research the daughters when you don't know what name they were using? Here are some ways to approach that research.

Finding All of the Daughters in the Family Tree


Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 2

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.)

Why Research All of the Children?

When we research all of the children in the family, it gives us a more complete view of that family and it helps put the ancestor in context. There's also the added benefit of when you're researching the other children, you might come up with some clues for things that you can research about your direct ancestor. It's definitely worth the time and effort to research the whole family.

However, finding females can be a bit of a challenge. First, we have the problem of so many records were created by and for men; females aren't included as often in the records, especially the further back you go. We also have the challenge that in many western cultures that females change their surname every time they get married. That means that there are times when you don't know what name you should be looking for.

The Father's Probate

Since so many records were created by and for men, let's use that to our advantage and explore the records about the father in the family.

One type of record that you should look at is the father's probate. Look in his will to see how he named his daughters. Hopefully he listed them with their married names. (Of course you have the instances where the father wrote a will before the daughters got married or sometimes he just them by their first names, regardless of their marital status.) ​

Another probate document to look for is the final distribution. A final distribution will list all of the people who have inherited from the estate and how much they inherited. The final distribution is going to be created whether or not the person had a will. What's important about these final distributions is that it lists the females with the name they were going by at the time; if daughters are are getting something from the estate, they are listed with their married names.

You'll usually find statements of final distribution together in a probate packet or probate case file depending on how the probate papers are arranged in that particular county.  

Land and Court Records

If the father died without a will and he owned land, his land and the rest of the estate was divided up according to the laws of inheritance in place at that time.

In many places, the administrator of the estate had to start a court proceeding called a partition suit and essentially it got all of the heirs to sign off on selling the land. What's wonderful about these partition suits is that they include all of the heirs of the estate.  If the daughters were married, they would be listed with their married names.

Researching the Known Children

Another way that we can approach this problem is by researching the other known children. Look for things like their obituaries. You never know who's going to be listed in an obituary. Here's an obituary that I recently found in the South Kentuckian, which was published in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

Although it doesn't give the first name of John Cox's sister, we now know that one of the Cox daughters (John's sister) married Sam Dillard.

Also look for the siblings' listings in county histories. 

John Cox obituary, South Kentuckian, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, 1882

(Hopkinsville, KY) South Kentuckian, 19 December 1882, p. 2. Image courtesy Chronicling America.

Searching Without a Name

How can we use all of those wonderful databases if we don't know what name we're looking for? That's when I like to employ a search strategy of going into one specific database and, if I can, looking by the name of the parents and leaving the person that I'm looking for completely blank.

For example, I wanted to find the death certificates of the children of Mannon Pettit and his wife Susan Cain of Pennsylvania. I knew the first names of many of the daughters based on the census, but I didn't know all of their married names, so how was I going to search for them (as well as find any children I hadn't yet identified)? I decided to use my nameless search strategy.

In Ancestry's collection, "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966," I left the name of the deceased blank and searched with father's last name of Pettit and mother's last name of Cain

Searching Pennsylvania Death Certificates

I found two of the married daughters using this search strategy. Seeing the other information on the death certificate, including when and where they were born, I could verify that these were members of the family. 

Note: The challenge with death certificates is that the information is only as accurate and complete as the knowledge of the informant. Because of this, I usually do two searches — once with the father's surname and mother's maiden name (like above) and a second search using the father's surname and the mother's first name. This will help turn up records where they didn't know the mother's maiden name.


It's important in our research to take a look beyond just our direct ancestor and research the other family members. Even though it can be challenging to find the females in the family tree, we have some good search strategies that we can use so that we can identify them.

Finding All of the Daughters in the Family Tree
Posted: September 20, 2018.

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  • Thank you for this podcast! I never thought about using wills/probate to find daughters’ married names or looking through specific death certificates to find children of a couple. This tips will come in handy!!

  • Love your nameless search strategy!! I definitely have a few family members, female collaterals, with very few clues. Merci!

  • Great advice! I have a will that names all 4 daughters, but only by first names. Now I can go back to the courthouse looking for the Final Distribution..
    The information about a “partition suit” was also news to me…

  • I deeply appreciate this generation Podcast#2 I have too many women whose surname is a pair of question marks; this was helpful and encouraging; !

  • Thanks, Amy, for the great tips in this podcast! I have tried doing alternate searches such as you described. But I had never thought to do father’s last name with mother’s first name and an unnamed deceased person or bride or groom. I will try that soon. I am still looking for the one missing child of my great-great-grandmother’s. In 1900 she said that she had borne 13 children, and I am still looking for the last one. If ONLY I could locate them in the 1880 census, I might have a clue!

  • I love your advice, and just wondered if you found the Pettit family you were looking for. I have a grandmother, Louise Sylvia Pettit Tong in my mother’s line. Are we related? I’m having trouble finding Pettit information. They are from Georgetown, Grass Valley, California area.

    • Yes, I did. The Pettit’s I was researching for this project were all in the Pennsylvania/West Virginia area. Not my family; helping a friend.