52 Ancestors Week 10: Records for Spinster Aunts and Bachelor Uncles

We get so caught up looking at our direct lines that we don\’t always look at our ancestors\’ siblings. There\’s almost certainly siblings who didn\’t marry, or married and didn\’t have children. With no direct descendants, their stories get lost, and that\’s a shame. We\’re always looking for interesting ancestors, and sometimes these forgotten ancestors led interesting lives.

Take for instance, my maternal grandmother\’s oldest brother Jules Mallais. He died in the influenza pandemic in 1918 after being a soldier in World War I. He died a few months shy of his 19th birthday, when my grandmother was only 5 years old. She would have barely remembered him herself, so his story could have been lost. He never got the chance to marry, or have children.

On my paternal side there\’s my great uncle Hector McDonald. A veteran of Korea, he was a big influence in my dad\’s life. He married, but never had children. Thankfully, I have my dad and aunt and uncle to tell me stories about what a character he was.

The further back you go through the generations though, you\’re not going to have people still alive to share their stories. So where can we find information on our \”spinster aunts\” and \”bachelor uncles\”?

Following records for unmarried women can often be easier than searching for married women. Because they are not attached to a spouse, they owned assets in their right, and you never have to figure out if that \”Mrs. John Smith\” is the one your looking for.

Check census records for when your grandparent couples were older. In many cases it was the unmarried daughter who cared for them the last years of their lives. And once their parents passed, many of these women moved in with a sibling. The same can also hold true for the uncles. Also for uncles check the entries on the same page as your direct ancestors to see if they are a neighbour. For that matter, check the pages before and after. Many families stayed very close to each other. A few years ago I wrote a two part blog post on Canadian census records. See here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.

Land records can be useful in tracing those unmarried aunties. They accumulated property in their own name, and not a husband\’s. The uncles were sometimes given a piece of the main homestead. I haven\’t yet written a series of posts relating to land records. Because of the complexity and differences between provinces, it\’s been one that I haven\’t been able to devote enough time to in order to give it justice. I\’ve provided a link to each province to get you started.

Wills and Probate Records can be a good source of information. Unmarried women had an advantage over married women in this regard. For many years, in the majority of provinces married women were not allowed to legally make a will of their own. The bonus about unmarried aunts\’ and uncles\’ wills is that favourite nieces and nephews are often mentioned. One of your ancestors could be mentioned in them. I wrote a series of posts about the Wills and Probate process.
  • Part 1 is a brief introduction
  • Part 2 covers Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island
  • Part 3 covers Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
  • Part 4 covers Quebec and Ontario
  • Part 5 covers Manitoba and Saskatchewan
  • Part 6 covers Alberta and British Columbia
  • Part 7 covers Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut
I mentioned my great uncle Jules was a soldier in the first World War. One of the unfortunate spin offs of military conflict is that many young men died before they married or had children. Library and Archives Canada is your best place to go to start searching for military service. Scroll down to the Military section on their Ancestors Search page. And don\’t forget about the Nursing Sisters and other women who served. They are included in these databases.
Without the constraints of children, your aunt or uncle may have been involved in churches, fraternal organizations, charities, and local groups. Don\’t forget to look at these to see if you can find them on membership lists and committees. Local newspapers and City Directories can help with this. I\’ve also found some great surprises on Internet Archive.
Speaking of newspapers, those unmarried aunts and uncles were sometimes a little eccentric for their time period. Check newspapers to see if they were scandalizing the community in some way.
Women didn\’t often travel alone, but those unattached uncles could have. Check border crossing records between Canada and the US. A lot of times they had to list who they were visiting. You might find extended family in those records to help grow that tree.
If you have any other idea for finding those unmarried and/or childless aunts and uncles, feel free to share below. 

2 thoughts on “52 Ancestors Week 10: Records for Spinster Aunts and Bachelor Uncles

  1. I've found one or two unmarried siblings who became nuns! Hard to track down because of the religious names they took, but happening upon death records allowed me to verify parentage.

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