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.
Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 61
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. Indeed, I had to keep all of her husbands in mind in order to break down the brick wall that had stymied me for more than 20 years! (You can read more about that research here.)
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?