What’s in a married name?

I’ve been thinking about the reasons we research our family trees, specifically women who research their husband’s family. You know the ones – the husband isn’t interested and the wife is stuck with hers so she moves on to build a tree for her husband, and gets hooked.

I’ve never really understood this clearly, until today.

We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of the genealogist who is only interested in their own surname. These are mostly males, in my experience, who follow their direct male as far back as they can go and then stop. I can sort of understand this – there is an attraction to seeing your own surname in the records that is reduced when you see maiden surnames. It’s a bigger thrill for me to find a Riley than a Stewart or a Goode.

My breakthrough came when I considered that I didn’t change my name when I got married. I’ve been married for 22 years and some months, and I made the decision to keep my name. It’s my name, after all.

But what if I had changed it? What if I’d spent the last 22 years as Carole Bassett (it seems weird just seeing it written there) instead of Carole Riley? I’d been writing it and signing it and answering to it and filling in forms with it and opening mail with it on the front? I’d feel like a Bassett now, wouldn’t I?

So of course I’d be interested in the Bassetts, and where they came from. Especially if I had kids and their name was Bassett. Or some awful hyphenated Riley-Bassett or Bassett-Riley. So if my Bassett wasn’t doing his own (a rarity among husbands!) I’d be doing it and saying it’s for him. When really it would be for me.

You just have to put yourself in the shoes of the people you are trying to understand, and it all becomes much clearer.

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