I am sure you realize we have an equal number of female and male ancestors in our family trees, but those females are overlooked occasionally. The reality and reason for this delay in our research efforts are that they first change their surnames when they marry. The second reason is that they had few legal rights, making it hard to find them in records and databases. We will learn to cover all the bases and avoid tunnel vision and resist the temptation to pass over those that are difficult to find. We will become more aware of the other individuals that can give us insight into our female ancestors.
Do you find your family tree to be top-heavy? Meaning, your male ancestors are the names filling the branches of your tree, and the bare spots in your tree are the female names missing on the branches. There is a reason why it is more difficult to find our female ancestors. Here are the main three reasons.
Surname changes with every marriage
In western culture, women change their name with every marriage. As a result, they are harder to find because we could be looking for more than one name change.
Records tend to be male-oriented
Women’s names didn’t appear in as many files as the men’s names.
Not always listed with her full name
We have the issue of women often not appearing with her full name.
There are a couple of phrases you need to know when looking for your females. The first phrases you might find in recorder offices when looking through indexes for deeds and other such records are “ET UX or ET UXOR,” which are Latin for “and wife.” As you are going through the index of deed or probate records, you might find an example: “Miller, Robert et ux.” which means Robert Miller and wife. We can see her name recorded in the document. So when searching, we need to be thinking about the wife’s husband to find the wife in the record.
The second phrase to watch for in the index is “Etal,” which means “and others.” The index might read “Johnson, Enoch, et al.,” which means “Enoch Johnson and others” his name might be the only name in the index, but this tells you there are more names in the record.
Another common practice, in particular, in the 1800s is the use of her husband’s name, for example, obituaries “Mrs. Joseph Klingenberger died…”
We also have the issue of “nicknames,” particularly in Census records one year the wife’s name might be exp. “Katherine” and another Census, she might be listed as “Katie.” In this example, her daughters listed as “Lizzie and Katie” instead of “Elizabeth and Katherine.” So when you are not finding your females think about the various nicknames.
We need to consider some Search Strategies when searching for our female ancestors.
- Search without her first name: use her last name only when searching for a record, think about what you know about her, like when and when she was born, other people related to her; this approach could lead you to those records.
- Search with the surname she might have been using at the time: for example, if searching for a birth record, we must look for the file using her birth name.
- Search using every surname she used up to that point: if a woman has several marriages, she might have used another name and not that of her last husband.
Find all the Records in which you expect to find:
- Her husband(s)
- Her children
- Her siblings
- Her neighbors and associates,
When searching for our female ancestor’s records, we have to focus not just on her but also on the others in her life, such as; godparents of her children and witnesses in deeds if she is selling land.
If we use these general search strategies, we will have more success in finding our female ancestors’ records.
Records for Her
When looking for records, don’t just assume because you can’t find a particular record that it doesn’t exist. For example, we know about Birth Certificates. Still, not many realize there are such documents as Delayed Birth Certificates, so check for those if you cannot find a standard certificate. You will want to watch for baptism records because many churches kept baptism records long before the civil record.
As you continue your search, make sure to look for Marriage records of all your female ancestor’s husbands, there will be possible clues to help find more records. Also, check the newspapers for Marriage Announcements for all her marriages. Divorce records, as well, will provide some excellent information to steer us in the right direction. We use Census records throughout our genealogy research and do not overlook these records.
As you can see in this example, an older female is living with the family; this type of information could provide a birth name for our female ancestor. Death records, Obituaries, Tombstones, are small clues of information that lead to significant findings. We really cannot leave any stone unturned when it comes to records for her.
Records for Her Husband(s)
It may seem counter-intuitive that to find more about females in our tree, we need to research the males in our lines, but that is needed. We must look at the records for all her husbands, i.e., Land, Tax, Pension, Military, Death Records, and others associated with his death.
Land Records, in particular, are a beneficial source as they tend to be a complete record group; they were essential to most people at a very early date. When finding land records, if we find they sold the land, we need to see how they purchased it. In the Deed record, we can find people involved in the purchase and selling of the land. i.e., such as the name of her father. Tax Records is another complete record group; it lists landowners/taxpayers, whether male or female. Also, don’t forget to check her husband’s (s) obituaries. There are always clues to find female ancestors’ records by looking at all of her husband’s.
Records for Her Children
The bond between a mother and her child is one of the most robust relationships there is, I think we can all agree that to be true, and this becomes more apparent when doing our genealogy. So how do we find our female ancestors’ records through their children? The answer to that question is the same as searching through the records of husband(s) as above.
As we perform our research and review various records, I am sure you have come to realize that the same type of information is not always on the same kind of file. So that is why we should look at the child in our direct ancestor’s line and all of her children. We need to include all of her children’s, Birth, Marriage, and Death records. Each child’s records could provide us with clues about their mother. When searching online and finding a record, don’t just accept the file’s transcription but view the document itself if available; often, you will discover extra clues on the report. Also, look at obituaries for all the children, even children who passed away at a young age; these obituaries would have been filled out by parents and would have additional information than if they passed as an adult.
County Histories are a great source of information.
Records for Her Siblings
We would usually look at sibling rivalry as a bad thing. But those siblings might have kept better records than our ancestors. We want to look at all her siblings, those others living in the household, those other people mentioned in Census, Marriage, Birth, Death records. When looking at the siblings, start your search with the siblings with the most unusual names, but make sure you look at all her siblings’ files.
Obituaries of the siblings can be rich in additional information, especially unmarried siblings such as the spinster Aunt, who seems to know everything about all their siblings and their families; they are so awesome.
Records for Neighbors and Associates
Also, we need to look at the friends and others that our female ancestors are closely associated with. These individuals could be Sponsors, Godparents, Witnesses on wills and deeds, Neighbors (Census, city directories, as examples). Sometimes in various records, these other people could end up found to be related, so another ancestor. We need to make a habit of looking at all the people in our female ancestor’s life.
Even though we know that finding our female ancestors can be more challenging than that of our male ancestors, in my opinion, that can be a good thing. It provides us with the opportunity to solve a mystery, and we all love a good mystery. Also, in having to search through other ancestor’s records, we make some exciting discoveries about our female ancestors and other family members as well, which is a bonus.
I hope you will succeed in using the methods provided in this article to find your missing female ancestors and their records. Happy hunting!
I look forward to hearing from you and your opinion on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment below.