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Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Aug 19, 2010

Ten Methods for Finding Your Female Ancestors

by Aubrey Fredrickson

Did you know that September is Women of Achievement month? The term "Women of Achievement" might make us think first of the great deeds of those women whose names are recorded in history books, such as Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, or Helen Keller. However, our personal and family history books are filled with the names of women whose achievements, though more quietly accomplished, have had no less of an impact on our lives. After all, where would we be if not for our grandmothers?

Unfortunately, researching our female ancestors is often much more difficult than researching their male counterparts. Not all records list women's names and fewer still give a maiden name. So, how do you go about filling in the details of the feminine half of your family tree? In this article, we will suggest ten methods for locating information on your female ancestors. We'll start with some fairly basic suggestions, so if you're a seasoned genealogist, feel free to scan the bolded titles and jump to a section that interests you.

1. Start with what you know.
This is the foundation for all genealogical research. For a female ancestor, what you already know might seem relatively slim. If your pedigree chart is anything like mine, it has at least a few Janes and Sarahs who are little more than a first name and a "married to." Is that really all you know though? This is a good time to make some educated guesses.

For example, in my family tree I have an Ann who married Robert Trevett and had three children, who were born between 1810 and 1814 in Dorset, England. This is all that I know about Ann, but what can I "guess" about her? Well, I know that her husband and children were born in Dorset. Since she lived during a time period when most people didn't travel far during their lives, I can guess that she was probably born in Dorset, or possibly in a neighboring county. Her husband was born in 1778. Assuming that she was either about the same age or younger than her husband, I can guess that she was born between 1775 and 1794.

This is all pretty vague guesswork, so why bother? Making these kinds of guesses gives you a direction to channel your research in. Rather than beginning my search by looking for an English woman named Ann, I can start by looking for Ann in records in Dorset between 1775 and 1794. While it's a good idea to jot down your guesses in your notes, be careful not to treat them as fact until you've verified the information by research.

2. Create a timeline.
This suggestion goes along with starting with what you know. A good way to keep track of information is by creating a timeline of your ancestor's life. Include important life events such as birth, marriage, birth of children, migrations, illnesses, and death. List places as well as dates, so you can quickly see where your ancestor was at any point in her life. You probably won't have all the information to start with, but put down what you do have. You may also want to pencil in those guesses we talked about, but always keep in mind that they are just guesses. Never ignore a possible line of research just because it doesn't fit in with your "maybes."

In addition to being a handy reference tool, the timeline can help point out missing information or incongruities in your ancestor's life. For example, if your ancestor typically had a child every two years, but there's a five year gap in the middle, you might look for the birth of another child.

Once you've listed your ancestor's life events on your timeline, you should write in any national or local events that might have affected her life. We'll talk more about that later, though, so keep the timeline in mind.

3. Interview living family members.
Living family members can be one of the most valuable genealogical resources. Especially if you are interested in learning more than just the bare facts of your ancestor's lives. Stories are often passed down verbally through generations. And women in particular tend to talk to each other about home and family. Your mother, sisters, grandmothers, or aunts may have stories about female relatives that you've never heard. They might serve only to help you get to know your ancestor on a more personal level, or they might actually be able to suggest a possible area to research. Does someone remember hearing that great-grandma came from Holland? What about the family story that a great-aunt converted from Catholicism to Anglicism? And don't forget about your male relatives as they may also have some stories about their mothers and grandmothers.

In our last issue, we summarized some of the resources available on our site to help you interview family members. Click here, to read that article.

4. Explore family records, letters, and diaries.
Your female ancestor might not always be listed in the official records, but you may be able to find more information about her from family records, such as a family bible, letters she wrote, or a diary she kept. When you're interviewing your family members, be sure to ask them whether they are aware of any such records. Maybe Aunt Jane remembers that her grandmother had a family bible and passed it on to a cousin. It's always worth asking because you never know what may turn up.

What if none of your immediate family is aware of, or knows what happened to, the family records? Should you give up there? Not at all. As you continue your research, you may come in contact with a few distant cousins who are also researching the family. You never know who might have a copy of great-great-grandma's diary. Also, there are places online where information has been posted from family records. There are even sites where you can buy family bibles. I came across one site where some researchers had collected various family bibles that were being sold and are attempting to return them to their families.

Are you going to be able to find a family bible, letters, or diaries for every family? Probably not. Such records may not have been kept in your ancestor's family, or even if they were, they may have been destroyed or lost. However, it is always worth looking for what could be such a treasure trove of family history.

5. Look deeper into traditional sources.
We may get frustrated sometimes with the lack of information that the most common genealogical resources have to offer about our female ancestors. Finding a woman's maiden name and parents, for example, can be quite difficult if you only have information on her after her marriage. However, even in census records, which don't list a wife's maiden name, it is sometimes possible to find important clues if you look a little deeper.

I'll use, as an example, Sarah, a 25 year old woman who was listed in the 1850 US Census as the wife of W. A. Huston. Also living in the household according to the census was a Mary J. Parker, who was 22, and a Jasper Newton, who was only 1. Of course, in the 1850 census, no relationships were listed, so we have to infer where possible. This household was little tricky though. Who was Mary? There is no occupation listed for her, so probably not the maid. I wondered whether she might not be Sarah's little sister. Knowing that it was impossible to verify that from this one record, I tucked that question away for later consideration. The last person listed was the household was little Jasper Newton. He was quite a quandary as well. His surname did not match either W.A. and Sarah or Mary, yet one would think that a baby living in the house would be related to someone. Possibly an orphan that the couple had adopted? Again, I theorized and made a note so that I could continue to consider the possibility as I worked.

I was unable to find either W. A. or Sarah Huston in the next census record (or Mary Parker, for that matter). I did, however, find a Jasper N. Huston, age 11, living in a nearby county with an older woman named...Rebecca Parker. Here was one possible, although still tentative, explanation of the relationships in the 1850 household. Mary Parker was Sarah's sister. Newton was Jasper's middle, not last, name and he was the son of W. A. and Sarah, both of whom died before 1860. After the death of his parents, Jasper moved in with his mother's mother. Could I be certain this is what happened? No, although I was later able to find a death record for a Sarah Hueston who was the daughter of a Rebecca Parker. Even then, more information would be needed to verify for certain that my inferences were correct. Still, you can see how asking questions and making guesses can lead to new avenues of research. I might not ever have found the death record if I hadn't been looking for the surname Parker in the area where Rebecca was living in 1860.

Another useful technique is to look around on the page, or the pages directly before or after, the record of your ancestor. Extended family often lived in the same area. When you're looking at marriage records, pay attention to the names of witnesses, who were often relatives. Watch out for the surnames of families who seem to be, somehow, connected to your ancestors. Even if you can't identify right now where the connection is, you may want to jot down the names, as later on you may find that they fit into your family tree.

For additional suggestions on how to get more out of records, read Karen Clifford's article on Recognizing Your Ancestor.

6. Research national and local events.
We talked earlier about creating a timeline of major events in your ancestor's life. However, family events would not have been the only occasions that affected your ancestor. Many aspects of her life would also have been affected by what was happening in her town, county, or country. Researching these events, and adding them to your timeline, can help you get a more detailed picture of your ancestor's life. It can also help point out other possible research channels.

For example, let's say you have an ancestor who was living in Canada with her husband in 1920. You can't find any record of her before her marriage, but you know that she was an immigrant from Europe. Any research on that time period would immediately bring up information regarding World War I. Focusing on women during this time period, you would find that many women immigrated to Canada as the brides of soldiers after the war. Could your ancestor have been one of these war brides? This consideration might lead you to search for military records for her husband or for resources which give more information regarding the war brides themselves. (Here are some sites to check out if you think your ancestor was a war bride: Canadian War Brides of the First World War or Canadian War Brides[WWII].)

A great resource for researching the history of women in the US is discussed by Larisa S. Asaeli in her review of "The Routledge Historical Atlas of Women in America" by Sandra Opdycke.

7. Research laws.
Another area of research to consider are laws, particularly those regulating property ownership and inheritance, that would have existed during your ancestor's life. This can help you to determine which records your female ancestor's name may, or may not, be listed in.

Let's take the Married Women's Property Acts passed in the United Kingdom in 1870 and 1882. Prior to 1870, single women and widowed women could legally own property in their own names. However, when a single woman married, her property legally became her husband's, along with any wages she earned. Everything would be under her husband's name. In 1870, an act was passed which stated that any wages earned by a married woman were to be kept for her own use. This act also allowed a married woman to inherit property in her own name during her marriage. However, any property she held before marriage would still become her husband's. That was changed in 1882, when a second Married Women's Property Act allowed women to be viewed as separate legal entities from their husbands, with the right to own, buy, or sell their own property. You can learn more about these acts by reading this Wikipedia article.

Another example of how women were affected by changing laws is naturalization in the US. Before 1922, a woman's citizenship was dependant upon her husband's. In fact, an act passed in 1907 made a woman's nationality inseparable from her husband's, even if she was already a citizen. Between 1907 and 1922, a female American citizen became an alien if she married an immigrant who had not been naturalized. For more information on naturalization, see our article on Finding Your Ancestors' US Naturalization Records.

8. Women's Studies.
If you're wondering where to go to research women's lives in a specific area or time period, Women's Studies programs can be a fantastic resource. Many universities have Women's Studies departments, which study such topics as politics, society, and history from the perspective of women. You can often find resources on these programs' websites that can help you learn more about the issues that faced your female ancestors. And again, these may possibly point to record sources you hadn't previously considered.

The Gender and Women's Studies department of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) hosts a website that lists many resource sites for Women's Studies, as well as links to other Women's Studies programs throughout the world. Take a look by visiting Women's Studies Online Resources

9. Look for non-traditional resources.
We've talked about looking deeper into traditional genealogical resources, such as census records. We've also mentioned that as you research events and laws from the time period your ancestor lived in, you may be led towards new record resources. That happens as you keep an eye out for non-traditional resources: records that might include your ancestor's name, but which we might not typically consider when doing genealogy research. When researching information on women during the US Civil War, I came across "Our Army Nurses", a book which includes information on about a hundred women who served as nurses during the war. The book is available on Google Books and includes, along with descriptions of what these women experienced, many useful genealogical details, such as birth dates and maiden names.

There are many such records available on- and off-line. Records that contain much useful information that could help us extend our family trees, but which we might not ever find if we stick to the normal routine of census and vital records.

10. Connect with other researchers.
We'll end with another method that is foundational to all genealogical research. Genealogy can never be considered an individual pursuit. After all, the whole idea is to connect-with our ancestors primarily, but often that can be accomplished so much more easily by working together. So, post on message boards and respond to other researchers who are working on the same lines or in the same area as you are. If you haven't already done so, you can post a Research Interest at MyTrees.com and search through those posted by other members.

We hope one or more of these methods with be helpful to you as you research the feminine half of your family tree. If your ancestor lived in the United States, another great resource is "The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women's Genealogy." You can read a review of this book by clicking here. And here are some other websites and articles that might help you along the way:


Have you had luck finding your female ancestors? We'd love to hear about it! Send your success story to newsletter@mytrees.com and we'll include in the "Your Stories" section of our next newsletter.

Article written by Aubrey Fredrickson

Copyright ©: 2011 Fficiency Software, Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author.

Newsletters

Select Newsletter by Issue or Topic:

Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Aug 19, 2010

Ten Methods for Finding Your Female Ancestors

by Aubrey Fredrickson

Did you know that September is Women of Achievement month? The term "Women of Achievement" might make us think first of the great deeds of those women whose names are recorded in history books, such as Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, or Helen Keller. However, our personal and family history books are filled with the names of women whose achievements, though more quietly accomplished, have had no less of an impact on our lives. After all, where would we be if not for our grandmothers?

Unfortunately, researching our female ancestors is often much more difficult than researching their male counterparts. Not all records list women's names and fewer still give a maiden name. So, how do you go about filling in the details of the feminine half of your family tree? In this article, we will suggest ten methods for locating information on your female ancestors. We'll start with some fairly basic suggestions, so if you're a seasoned genealogist, feel free to scan the bolded titles and jump to a section that interests you.

1. Start with what you know.
This is the foundation for all genealogical research. For a female ancestor, what you already know might seem relatively slim. If your pedigree chart is anything like mine, it has at least a few Janes and Sarahs who are little more than a first name and a "married to." Is that really all you know though? This is a good time to make some educated guesses.

For example, in my family tree I have an Ann who married Robert Trevett and had three children, who were born between 1810 and 1814 in Dorset, England. This is all that I know about Ann, but what can I "guess" about her? Well, I know that her husband and children were born in Dorset. Since she lived during a time period when most people didn't travel far during their lives, I can guess that she was probably born in Dorset, or possibly in a neighboring county. Her husband was born in 1778. Assuming that she was either about the same age or younger than her husband, I can guess that she was born between 1775 and 1794.

This is all pretty vague guesswork, so why bother? Making these kinds of guesses gives you a direction to channel your research in. Rather than beginning my search by looking for an English woman named Ann, I can start by looking for Ann in records in Dorset between 1775 and 1794. While it's a good idea to jot down your guesses in your notes, be careful not to treat them as fact until you've verified the information by research.

2. Create a timeline.
This suggestion goes along with starting with what you know. A good way to keep track of information is by creating a timeline of your ancestor's life. Include important life events such as birth, marriage, birth of children, migrations, illnesses, and death. List places as well as dates, so you can quickly see where your ancestor was at any point in her life. You probably won't have all the information to start with, but put down what you do have. You may also want to pencil in those guesses we talked about, but always keep in mind that they are just guesses. Never ignore a possible line of research just because it doesn't fit in with your "maybes."

In addition to being a handy reference tool, the timeline can help point out missing information or incongruities in your ancestor's life. For example, if your ancestor typically had a child every two years, but there's a five year gap in the middle, you might look for the birth of another child.

Once you've listed your ancestor's life events on your timeline, you should write in any national or local events that might have affected her life. We'll talk more about that later, though, so keep the timeline in mind.

3. Interview living family members.
Living family members can be one of the most valuable genealogical resources. Especially if you are interested in learning more than just the bare facts of your ancestor's lives. Stories are often passed down verbally through generations. And women in particular tend to talk to each other about home and family. Your mother, sisters, grandmothers, or aunts may have stories about female relatives that you've never heard. They might serve only to help you get to know your ancestor on a more personal level, or they might actually be able to suggest a possible area to research. Does someone remember hearing that great-grandma came from Holland? What about the family story that a great-aunt converted from Catholicism to Anglicism? And don't forget about your male relatives as they may also have some stories about their mothers and grandmothers.

In our last issue, we summarized some of the resources available on our site to help you interview family members. Click here, to read that article.

4. Explore family records, letters, and diaries.
Your female ancestor might not always be listed in the official records, but you may be able to find more information about her from family records, such as a family bible, letters she wrote, or a diary she kept. When you're interviewing your family members, be sure to ask them whether they are aware of any such records. Maybe Aunt Jane remembers that her grandmother had a family bible and passed it on to a cousin. It's always worth asking because you never know what may turn up.

What if none of your immediate family is aware of, or knows what happened to, the family records? Should you give up there? Not at all. As you continue your research, you may come in contact with a few distant cousins who are also researching the family. You never know who might have a copy of great-great-grandma's diary. Also, there are places online where information has been posted from family records. There are even sites where you can buy family bibles. I came across one site where some researchers had collected various family bibles that were being sold and are attempting to return them to their families.

Are you going to be able to find a family bible, letters, or diaries for every family? Probably not. Such records may not have been kept in your ancestor's family, or even if they were, they may have been destroyed or lost. However, it is always worth looking for what could be such a treasure trove of family history.

5. Look deeper into traditional sources.
We may get frustrated sometimes with the lack of information that the most common genealogical resources have to offer about our female ancestors. Finding a woman's maiden name and parents, for example, can be quite difficult if you only have information on her after her marriage. However, even in census records, which don't list a wife's maiden name, it is sometimes possible to find important clues if you look a little deeper.

I'll use, as an example, Sarah, a 25 year old woman who was listed in the 1850 US Census as the wife of W. A. Huston. Also living in the household according to the census was a Mary J. Parker, who was 22, and a Jasper Newton, who was only 1. Of course, in the 1850 census, no relationships were listed, so we have to infer where possible. This household was little tricky though. Who was Mary? There is no occupation listed for her, so probably not the maid. I wondered whether she might not be Sarah's little sister. Knowing that it was impossible to verify that from this one record, I tucked that question away for later consideration. The last person listed was the household was little Jasper Newton. He was quite a quandary as well. His surname did not match either W.A. and Sarah or Mary, yet one would think that a baby living in the house would be related to someone. Possibly an orphan that the couple had adopted? Again, I theorized and made a note so that I could continue to consider the possibility as I worked.

I was unable to find either W. A. or Sarah Huston in the next census record (or Mary Parker, for that matter). I did, however, find a Jasper N. Huston, age 11, living in a nearby county with an older woman named...Rebecca Parker. Here was one possible, although still tentative, explanation of the relationships in the 1850 household. Mary Parker was Sarah's sister. Newton was Jasper's middle, not last, name and he was the son of W. A. and Sarah, both of whom died before 1860. After the death of his parents, Jasper moved in with his mother's mother. Could I be certain this is what happened? No, although I was later able to find a death record for a Sarah Hueston who was the daughter of a Rebecca Parker. Even then, more information would be needed to verify for certain that my inferences were correct. Still, you can see how asking questions and making guesses can lead to new avenues of research. I might not ever have found the death record if I hadn't been looking for the surname Parker in the area where Rebecca was living in 1860.

Another useful technique is to look around on the page, or the pages directly before or after, the record of your ancestor. Extended family often lived in the same area. When you're looking at marriage records, pay attention to the names of witnesses, who were often relatives. Watch out for the surnames of families who seem to be, somehow, connected to your ancestors. Even if you can't identify right now where the connection is, you may want to jot down the names, as later on you may find that they fit into your family tree.

For additional suggestions on how to get more out of records, read Karen Clifford's article on Recognizing Your Ancestor.

6. Research national and local events.
We talked earlier about creating a timeline of major events in your ancestor's life. However, family events would not have been the only occasions that affected your ancestor. Many aspects of her life would also have been affected by what was happening in her town, county, or country. Researching these events, and adding them to your timeline, can help you get a more detailed picture of your ancestor's life. It can also help point out other possible research channels.

For example, let's say you have an ancestor who was living in Canada with her husband in 1920. You can't find any record of her before her marriage, but you know that she was an immigrant from Europe. Any research on that time period would immediately bring up information regarding World War I. Focusing on women during this time period, you would find that many women immigrated to Canada as the brides of soldiers after the war. Could your ancestor have been one of these war brides? This consideration might lead you to search for military records for her husband or for resources which give more information regarding the war brides themselves. (Here are some sites to check out if you think your ancestor was a war bride: Canadian War Brides of the First World War or Canadian War Brides[WWII].)

A great resource for researching the history of women in the US is discussed by Larisa S. Asaeli in her review of "The Routledge Historical Atlas of Women in America" by Sandra Opdycke.

7. Research laws.
Another area of research to consider are laws, particularly those regulating property ownership and inheritance, that would have existed during your ancestor's life. This can help you to determine which records your female ancestor's name may, or may not, be listed in.

Let's take the Married Women's Property Acts passed in the United Kingdom in 1870 and 1882. Prior to 1870, single women and widowed women could legally own property in their own names. However, when a single woman married, her property legally became her husband's, along with any wages she earned. Everything would be under her husband's name. In 1870, an act was passed which stated that any wages earned by a married woman were to be kept for her own use. This act also allowed a married woman to inherit property in her own name during her marriage. However, any property she held before marriage would still become her husband's. That was changed in 1882, when a second Married Women's Property Act allowed women to be viewed as separate legal entities from their husbands, with the right to own, buy, or sell their own property. You can learn more about these acts by reading this Wikipedia article.

Another example of how women were affected by changing laws is naturalization in the US. Before 1922, a woman's citizenship was dependant upon her husband's. In fact, an act passed in 1907 made a woman's nationality inseparable from her husband's, even if she was already a citizen. Between 1907 and 1922, a female American citizen became an alien if she married an immigrant who had not been naturalized. For more information on naturalization, see our article on Finding Your Ancestors' US Naturalization Records.

8. Women's Studies.
If you're wondering where to go to research women's lives in a specific area or time period, Women's Studies programs can be a fantastic resource. Many universities have Women's Studies departments, which study such topics as politics, society, and history from the perspective of women. You can often find resources on these programs' websites that can help you learn more about the issues that faced your female ancestors. And again, these may possibly point to record sources you hadn't previously considered.

The Gender and Women's Studies department of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) hosts a website that lists many resource sites for Women's Studies, as well as links to other Women's Studies programs throughout the world. Take a look by visiting Women's Studies Online Resources

9. Look for non-traditional resources.
We've talked about looking deeper into traditional genealogical resources, such as census records. We've also mentioned that as you research events and laws from the time period your ancestor lived in, you may be led towards new record resources. That happens as you keep an eye out for non-traditional resources: records that might include your ancestor's name, but which we might not typically consider when doing genealogy research. When researching information on women during the US Civil War, I came across "Our Army Nurses", a book which includes information on about a hundred women who served as nurses during the war. The book is available on Google Books and includes, along with descriptions of what these women experienced, many useful genealogical details, such as birth dates and maiden names.

There are many such records available on- and off-line. Records that contain much useful information that could help us extend our family trees, but which we might not ever find if we stick to the normal routine of census and vital records.

10. Connect with other researchers.
We'll end with another method that is foundational to all genealogical research. Genealogy can never be considered an individual pursuit. After all, the whole idea is to connect-with our ancestors primarily, but often that can be accomplished so much more easily by working together. So, post on message boards and respond to other researchers who are working on the same lines or in the same area as you are. If you haven't already done so, you can post a Research Interest at MyTrees.com and search through those posted by other members.

We hope one or more of these methods with be helpful to you as you research the feminine half of your family tree. If your ancestor lived in the United States, another great resource is "The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women's Genealogy." You can read a review of this book by clicking here. And here are some other websites and articles that might help you along the way:


Have you had luck finding your female ancestors? We'd love to hear about it! Send your success story to newsletter@mytrees.com and we'll include in the "Your Stories" section of our next newsletter.

Article written by Aubrey Fredrickson

Copyright ©: 2011 Fficiency Software, Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author.

Newsletters

Select Newsletter by Issue or Topic:

Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Aug 19, 2010

Ten Methods for Finding Your Female Ancestors

by Aubrey Fredrickson

Did you know that September is Women of Achievement month? The term "Women of Achievement" might make us think first of the great deeds of those women whose names are recorded in history books, such as Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, or Helen Keller. However, our personal and family history books are filled with the names of women whose achievements, though more quietly accomplished, have had no less of an impact on our lives. After all, where would we be if not for our grandmothers?

Unfortunately, researching our female ancestors is often much more difficult than researching their male counterparts. Not all records list women's names and fewer still give a maiden name. So, how do you go about filling in the details of the feminine half of your family tree? In this article, we will suggest ten methods for locating information on your female ancestors. We'll start with some fairly basic suggestions, so if you're a seasoned genealogist, feel free to scan the bolded titles and jump to a section that interests you.

1. Start with what you know.
This is the foundation for all genealogical research. For a female ancestor, what you already know might seem relatively slim. If your pedigree chart is anything like mine, it has at least a few Janes and Sarahs who are little more than a first name and a "married to." Is that really all you know though? This is a good time to make some educated guesses.

For example, in my family tree I have an Ann who married Robert Trevett and had three children, who were born between 1810 and 1814 in Dorset, England. This is all that I know about Ann, but what can I "guess" about her? Well, I know that her husband and children were born in Dorset. Since she lived during a time period when most people didn't travel far during their lives, I can guess that she was probably born in Dorset, or possibly in a neighboring county. Her husband was born in 1778. Assuming that she was either about the same age or younger than her husband, I can guess that she was born between 1775 and 1794.

This is all pretty vague guesswork, so why bother? Making these kinds of guesses gives you a direction to channel your research in. Rather than beginning my search by looking for an English woman named Ann, I can start by looking for Ann in records in Dorset between 1775 and 1794. While it's a good idea to jot down your guesses in your notes, be careful not to treat them as fact until you've verified the information by research.

2. Create a timeline.
This suggestion goes along with starting with what you know. A good way to keep track of information is by creating a timeline of your ancestor's life. Include important life events such as birth, marriage, birth of children, migrations, illnesses, and death. List places as well as dates, so you can quickly see where your ancestor was at any point in her life. You probably won't have all the information to start with, but put down what you do have. You may also want to pencil in those guesses we talked about, but always keep in mind that they are just guesses. Never ignore a possible line of research just because it doesn't fit in with your "maybes."

In addition to being a handy reference tool, the timeline can help point out missing information or incongruities in your ancestor's life. For example, if your ancestor typically had a child every two years, but there's a five year gap in the middle, you might look for the birth of another child.

Once you've listed your ancestor's life events on your timeline, you should write in any national or local events that might have affected her life. We'll talk more about that later, though, so keep the timeline in mind.

3. Interview living family members.
Living family members can be one of the most valuable genealogical resources. Especially if you are interested in learning more than just the bare facts of your ancestor's lives. Stories are often passed down verbally through generations. And women in particular tend to talk to each other about home and family. Your mother, sisters, grandmothers, or aunts may have stories about female relatives that you've never heard. They might serve only to help you get to know your ancestor on a more personal level, or they might actually be able to suggest a possible area to research. Does someone remember hearing that great-grandma came from Holland? What about the family story that a great-aunt converted from Catholicism to Anglicism? And don't forget about your male relatives as they may also have some stories about their mothers and grandmothers.

In our last issue, we summarized some of the resources available on our site to help you interview family members. Click here, to read that article.

4. Explore family records, letters, and diaries.
Your female ancestor might not always be listed in the official records, but you may be able to find more information about her from family records, such as a family bible, letters she wrote, or a diary she kept. When you're interviewing your family members, be sure to ask them whether they are aware of any such records. Maybe Aunt Jane remembers that her grandmother had a family bible and passed it on to a cousin. It's always worth asking because you never know what may turn up.

What if none of your immediate family is aware of, or knows what happened to, the family records? Should you give up there? Not at all. As you continue your research, you may come in contact with a few distant cousins who are also researching the family. You never know who might have a copy of great-great-grandma's diary. Also, there are places online where information has been posted from family records. There are even sites where you can buy family bibles. I came across one site where some researchers had collected various family bibles that were being sold and are attempting to return them to their families.

Are you going to be able to find a family bible, letters, or diaries for every family? Probably not. Such records may not have been kept in your ancestor's family, or even if they were, they may have been destroyed or lost. However, it is always worth looking for what could be such a treasure trove of family history.

5. Look deeper into traditional sources.
We may get frustrated sometimes with the lack of information that the most common genealogical resources have to offer about our female ancestors. Finding a woman's maiden name and parents, for example, can be quite difficult if you only have information on her after her marriage. However, even in census records, which don't list a wife's maiden name, it is sometimes possible to find important clues if you look a little deeper.

I'll use, as an example, Sarah, a 25 year old woman who was listed in the 1850 US Census as the wife of W. A. Huston. Also living in the household according to the census was a Mary J. Parker, who was 22, and a Jasper Newton, who was only 1. Of course, in the 1850 census, no relationships were listed, so we have to infer where possible. This household was little tricky though. Who was Mary? There is no occupation listed for her, so probably not the maid. I wondered whether she might not be Sarah's little sister. Knowing that it was impossible to verify that from this one record, I tucked that question away for later consideration. The last person listed was the household was little Jasper Newton. He was quite a quandary as well. His surname did not match either W.A. and Sarah or Mary, yet one would think that a baby living in the house would be related to someone. Possibly an orphan that the couple had adopted? Again, I theorized and made a note so that I could continue to consider the possibility as I worked.

I was unable to find either W. A. or Sarah Huston in the next census record (or Mary Parker, for that matter). I did, however, find a Jasper N. Huston, age 11, living in a nearby county with an older woman named...Rebecca Parker. Here was one possible, although still tentative, explanation of the relationships in the 1850 household. Mary Parker was Sarah's sister. Newton was Jasper's middle, not last, name and he was the son of W. A. and Sarah, both of whom died before 1860. After the death of his parents, Jasper moved in with his mother's mother. Could I be certain this is what happened? No, although I was later able to find a death record for a Sarah Hueston who was the daughter of a Rebecca Parker. Even then, more information would be needed to verify for certain that my inferences were correct. Still, you can see how asking questions and making guesses can lead to new avenues of research. I might not ever have found the death record if I hadn't been looking for the surname Parker in the area where Rebecca was living in 1860.

Another useful technique is to look around on the page, or the pages directly before or after, the record of your ancestor. Extended family often lived in the same area. When you're looking at marriage records, pay attention to the names of witnesses, who were often relatives. Watch out for the surnames of families who seem to be, somehow, connected to your ancestors. Even if you can't identify right now where the connection is, you may want to jot down the names, as later on you may find that they fit into your family tree.

For additional suggestions on how to get more out of records, read Karen Clifford's article on Recognizing Your Ancestor.

6. Research national and local events.
We talked earlier about creating a timeline of major events in your ancestor's life. However, family events would not have been the only occasions that affected your ancestor. Many aspects of her life would also have been affected by what was happening in her town, county, or country. Researching these events, and adding them to your timeline, can help you get a more detailed picture of your ancestor's life. It can also help point out other possible research channels.

For example, let's say you have an ancestor who was living in Canada with her husband in 1920. You can't find any record of her before her marriage, but you know that she was an immigrant from Europe. Any research on that time period would immediately bring up information regarding World War I. Focusing on women during this time period, you would find that many women immigrated to Canada as the brides of soldiers after the war. Could your ancestor have been one of these war brides? This consideration might lead you to search for military records for her husband or for resources which give more information regarding the war brides themselves. (Here are some sites to check out if you think your ancestor was a war bride: Canadian War Brides of the First World War or Canadian War Brides[WWII].)

A great resource for researching the history of women in the US is discussed by Larisa S. Asaeli in her review of "The Routledge Historical Atlas of Women in America" by Sandra Opdycke.

7. Research laws.
Another area of research to consider are laws, particularly those regulating property ownership and inheritance, that would have existed during your ancestor's life. This can help you to determine which records your female ancestor's name may, or may not, be listed in.

Let's take the Married Women's Property Acts passed in the United Kingdom in 1870 and 1882. Prior to 1870, single women and widowed women could legally own property in their own names. However, when a single woman married, her property legally became her husband's, along with any wages she earned. Everything would be under her husband's name. In 1870, an act was passed which stated that any wages earned by a married woman were to be kept for her own use. This act also allowed a married woman to inherit property in her own name during her marriage. However, any property she held before marriage would still become her husband's. That was changed in 1882, when a second Married Women's Property Act allowed women to be viewed as separate legal entities from their husbands, with the right to own, buy, or sell their own property. You can learn more about these acts by reading this Wikipedia article.

Another example of how women were affected by changing laws is naturalization in the US. Before 1922, a woman's citizenship was dependant upon her husband's. In fact, an act passed in 1907 made a woman's nationality inseparable from her husband's, even if she was already a citizen. Between 1907 and 1922, a female American citizen became an alien if she married an immigrant who had not been naturalized. For more information on naturalization, see our article on Finding Your Ancestors' US Naturalization Records.

8. Women's Studies.
If you're wondering where to go to research women's lives in a specific area or time period, Women's Studies programs can be a fantastic resource. Many universities have Women's Studies departments, which study such topics as politics, society, and history from the perspective of women. You can often find resources on these programs' websites that can help you learn more about the issues that faced your female ancestors. And again, these may possibly point to record sources you hadn't previously considered.

The Gender and Women's Studies department of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) hosts a website that lists many resource sites for Women's Studies, as well as links to other Women's Studies programs throughout the world. Take a look by visiting Women's Studies Online Resources

9. Look for non-traditional resources.
We've talked about looking deeper into traditional genealogical resources, such as census records. We've also mentioned that as you research events and laws from the time period your ancestor lived in, you may be led towards new record resources. That happens as you keep an eye out for non-traditional resources: records that might include your ancestor's name, but which we might not typically consider when doing genealogy research. When researching information on women during the US Civil War, I came across "Our Army Nurses", a book which includes information on about a hundred women who served as nurses during the war. The book is available on Google Books and includes, along with descriptions of what these women experienced, many useful genealogical details, such as birth dates and maiden names.

There are many such records available on- and off-line. Records that contain much useful information that could help us extend our family trees, but which we might not ever find if we stick to the normal routine of census and vital records.

10. Connect with other researchers.
We'll end with another method that is foundational to all genealogical research. Genealogy can never be considered an individual pursuit. After all, the whole idea is to connect-with our ancestors primarily, but often that can be accomplished so much more easily by working together. So, post on message boards and respond to other researchers who are working on the same lines or in the same area as you are. If you haven't already done so, you can post a Research Interest at MyTrees.com and search through those posted by other members.

We hope one or more of these methods with be helpful to you as you research the feminine half of your family tree. If your ancestor lived in the United States, another great resource is "The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women's Genealogy." You can read a review of this book by clicking here. And here are some other websites and articles that might help you along the way:


Have you had luck finding your female ancestors? We'd love to hear about it! Send your success story to newsletter@mytrees.com and we'll include in the "Your Stories" section of our next newsletter.

Article written by Aubrey Fredrickson

Copyright ©: 2011 Fficiency Software, Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author.

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