While doing research we often get way to focused on the Male (Paternal) side of the line. Little do we realize that that the Female (Maternal) side of the line has just as much influence on your research. Doing research on the Female line though provides a different set of challenges than the males side.
The first one and probably the hardest one is determining what the maiden name is for our female. Can't tell you how many genealogies I have looked at including my own that only have the first name for the female. There are several steps that you can take to locating this elusive name.
1. Marriage Record- This document is the first one that connects the female to the male. Locating this document will help identify her maiden name. Now this is not much to go on if her name is Mary Smith. So we need to locate more clues. One trick is to identify who conducts the service for your couple. Using her maiden name look at other people being married by the same person within a plus or minus ten year period from the couples wedding date. Brothers and Sisters are born close in range and this will give you a whole new set of people to research to find if there is a connection to your female.
2. Middle Names- Pay attention to the names used for middle names for the children of your couple. It was a very common naming practice among many different ethnic backgrounds to use maiden names for middle names. In my own family for several generations the middle name that at least one of the children had was the name Burr. This name was one that did not make sense as a first name, but seemed to more likely to be a last name. Sure enough with further research on the Paternal side of the family I was able to locate that one of the women's maiden name was Burr.
3. Naming Practices- A common way of naming children was to name the First son and daughter after the parents of the husband. The second son and daughter would be named after the wife's parents. This was way more common than I first gave credit to when researching my own family. I look back at all the time that I would have saved if I had thought of this rule. Using this system hopefully you will be able to reduce the pool of people living in a particular area down by the children's names.
4. Timeline- Another method that I have used is using a timeline to include all the events that have occurred in the females life. Start with her birth. Make sure to include the dates, event and location. This will help you when trying to determine what new records can be consulted and making certain that you are able to look in the geographic location that the event occurred. The irony in genealogy is that the nugget of information you seek is always in the last document you search.
5. Children's death certificate- Here you will be able to find a fairly reliable source for the surname of the person's mother. Understand that this does not start until after 1867 in most areas and the information itself is only as reliable as the person giving it.
Remember it was very common for the Husband to travel with the wife's family. Don't stay focused on his surname. Find that marriage certificate. It was by far the most common document recorded. They were kept much earlier than birth and death records. Look at who is living around your family. Marriage occurred in a very small pond. Travel was very limiting the further you go back.
Please check out my post on Elusive Maiden Names for more suggestions on this research challenge.