Name changes and a society that emphasizes men in the records can make finding female ancestors tough. Note that I said "tough," not "impossible." Let's consider some valuable sources that we might be overlooking.
There’s a problem with finding female ancestors. With name changes and a lack of records, it can be challenging to trace the female half of the family tree. Here are 3 practical strategies for finding more about our female ancestors.
1. Find All You Can About Her (AKA Don't Skip Records)
Since women had fewer legal rights than men, there weren’t as many records created about women as there were for men. That means we can’t afford to skip any records that should exist for her.
It’s so tempting in our research to just skip records because we think we know what’s going to be in that record. “Oh, I can skip that census because it’s not going to tell me anything I don’t already know,” or, “Obituaries are hard to find so I’m not going to bother looking for it.” (By the way, I have some tips for finding women’s obituaries.)
If we’re skipping records that should exist for her, we could be missing out on some golden opportunities to find more information. For example, in one census record I found the brother of my second great grandmother living with them. I didn’t know anything about this brother before I found the census record. That census opened up whole new avenues of research; I could research her brother, which led to information about their parents. If I had skipped that census record because, “Oh, it isn’t going to tell me anything new,” I would have missed that way of finding all of that information about their parents.
2. Search for Her Husband (All of Them)
We need to think about all of her husbands, not just the one who we descend from. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of, “Okay, she was married three times but I descend from her first husband, so that’s the one I’m going to focus on.”
My third-great-grandmother Matilda Debolt Skinner Crossen Brown McFillin was married at least four times. I descend from her first husband, William Skinner, but I need to be researching all four of her husbands. Each of her husbands created records that contain information about her: land records, probate records, court records, marriage records, etc. I can’t focus solely on William Skinner; I need to be thinking about all four of her husbands (and any additional husbands of hers that I might find!)
3. Research All of Her Children
The third thing that we need to do is research all of her children, not just the child that we descend from. Think about it, if we are researching that one child thinking he or she is going to have the answer, what if she had eight children? Couldn’t any of those eight have information pertaining to her?
Consider birth records. When you found the birth record of the child that you descend from, maybe it didn’t list the mother’s maiden name. However, maybe the birth record of one of the other children did. Also, think about their obituaries and marriage records (both civil and church). Don’t get so focused just on the child that you descend from, think about all of them. What answers can you find from those other children?
Also, don’t skip over any of her children who died young. Their birth records, death records, obituaries, and cemetery records could have just as much information about her as any of the other children.
As we’re looking at trying to find information about the females in our family tree, we can’t afford to be hyper-focused on just her or the husband and child we descend from. We can’t skip records just because we think we know what’s going to be in there. We need to also research all of her husbands and all of her children.
Which of these strategies have you used to find more about your female ancestors?
Obituaries can be rich in genealogical details. However, finding them for our female ancestors can be tricky, especially if you're searching in digitized newspapers. Here are 5 tips to help you find women's obituaries.
1. Search for Her Husband's Name
Married women were often referred to as Mrs. Husband Name rather than with her own first name. (This is especially true while the husband was still living.) Searching for an obituary for Mary Miller won't work if the obituary names her as Mrs. Thomas Miller. Try searching for her husband's name, including trying variations (like Jack for John or J. W. for John W.)
2. Combine Her Married Name and Her Maiden Name
If you know her maiden name, try leaving off the first name entirely. Do a search with just her married name and her maiden name. This will help you find obituaries that list her parents or her surviving brothers. (Obviously, this works better for Miller Seiglinger than it would for Miller Johnson.)
3. Search for a Surviving Child or Sibling
Do a search either for the full name of one of her surviving children or sibling or search for her last name and the married surname of one of her daughters or sisters. Look at all of the names in part of the obituary for Mrs. Jennie Brooks Kenney.
4. Consider Nicknames
Females, especially girls and young women, are sometimes listed with a nickname or diminutive form of their first name. If you're not finding Catherine, try searching for Kate or Katie.
5. Try the Name of the Cemetery
There are so many combinations of how her first name could be listed. Try searching for her last name plus the name of the cemetery. If you know Nancy Hopkins was buried in Bethel Cemetery, try searching for Hopkins Bethel.
- Don't overlook the newspapers in places where she used to live. It isn't unusual for newspapers to print obituaries for people who used to live in the community, especially if they still have a group of family and friends in the area.
- Skip the search; read the paper. If you have access to the newspaper where she lived, read it. Yes, searching can be faster. However, OCR (optical character recognition) technology is not 100% accurate. If the print is fuzzy, there's a wrinkle in the paper, or they used an oddball font, it might not be "read" correctly by the computer. The obituary could be in the paper, but it was lost in translation.
What tips do you have for finding obituaries for the females in your family tree?