Unusual Sources for Finding Female Ancestors

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.

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Generations Cafe Podcast, Episode 24

You can listen to this episode by clicking the play button below. (You can also listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and most other podcast apps.)
Length: 12 minutes.

Jane E. Wilcox of Forget Me Not Ancestry specializes in female research and researching in New York state. (That's a combination!) Both of those topics means that she has learned to get the most out of all available records. Here is her advice and some sources for finding female ancestors. 

Key Takeaways for Unusual Sources for Finding Female Ancestors:

  • Look at the ephemera (letters, diaries, journals, etc.) that you might already have
  • Look for records dealing with everyday life (doctors, midwives, store ledgers, church records)
  • Research the men in their lives

You might also want to check out my post on "3 Practical Strategies for Finding Female Ancestors." 

The key is to keep looking and to learn about all of the records that are available in any given location where your ancestor lived. That includes going beyond just the "regular" records like vital records and church records. What else exists? Explore and dig. (Jane describes herself as a digger. It's a strategy that pays off!)

Have you used an unusual resource for your female research? Let me know in the comments.

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    • Historical societies and archives. Use a large catalog such as WorldCat or DPLA. Even the FamilySearch catalog can be useful.

  • The minutes from the Keatchie Presbyterian Meeting held in 1863, extolled my 4th greatgrandmother for her support of the Pastor, providing food and funds to start the church and noted her death inthe record. So I know she suffered from severe arthritis for 6 weeks until she passed.

  • I found my 3x great grand mother in the records of property transactions where she and her husband bought and sold property in Nassau, Bahamas in the 1830’s .

  • Local work places. There‚Äôs a corporate picture of my grandmother with a group of women who worked as tin floppers (inspectors) in a tin mill. Also a picture of my other grandmother, who loved to sew and make quilts, working during WW II in a sewing group that met at the courthouse. A third photo of 2nd grandma in a Willing Workers commmunity group during war.

  • Ephemera are very helpful, if your ancestors passed some down to you! Old letters may be in the hands of someone in the family, so checking with cousins is a good idea. One of my favorite pieces of ephemera is an old receipt from 1877. My husband’s great-great grandmother purchased a coffin! I was able to pinpoint the approximate time of her first husband’s death–I find no other record for him.

    I also find it useful to pore over probate records with a fine-tooth comb. I was excited to find THREE probate records that tied a family together. The husband died in 1838; the wife died in 1846, and her father died in 1848. Not only were the children named, but also grandchildren… and the names of slaves who were named in both parents’ estates. These probate records also included court documents from the children, in the case of a child appointing a brother to represent him, and also a case of one of the children suing the others. This was research that was conducted mostly by a cousin, so working with other genealogists is another tip to finding ancestors.

    • It’s so helpful when you have these records to scan them, then put them in a public tree online. There might be African American’s looking for their relatives, so what a wealth of information!

  • Just found one of my illusive females at the website for the cemetery. It also included an obit–Yeah! This website includes info on all of the burials online going back years… Check it out… Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota…

  • Amy, I am so glad that you said at the beginning of the podcast that “Half of our ancestry is made up of females.” Genealogists seem to forget that and only search the men. I know that the majority of older records belong to men since women were considered nothing more than chattel for generations, but there ARE records for women in more recent generations. That’s why I have my file folders set up so that it reflects just as many women as men; it is a constant reminder to keep searching for my females.

    Oh, and the store ledgers idea is awesome! Thanks to Jane for the tip.