From the Ancestry
Female Ancestors: After the Marriage
Female ancestors present special research problems for two main reasons. A significant part of the difficulty stems from the fact that at the time of their marriage most American females changed their last name to that of their husband. Not knowing the last name makes for significant research difficulties.
Another significant problem in locating women is that for much of American history, women have not had the same legal rights as men. The result is that women are generally listed less often than men in many of the records utilized by genealogists.
Determining what happened to a woman after her marriage
requires the genealogist to do more than simply look up names in
indexes hoping something magically appears. It requires that the
researcher learn about:
Research outlines from the Family History Library for the appropriate state and Ancestry's Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources are two great ways to learn about records for the state and time period. Reading county, state, and regional histories are excellent sources of additional background information.
It may be possible that someone else has already worked on your problem. Online databases such as the GEDCOM files at WorldConnect, the International Genealogical Index at the Family Search Website (www.familysearch.org), appropriate state and regional mailing lists at Rootsweb (lists.rootsweb.com), and other sources available through Rootsweb (www.rootsweb.com) and the USGenWeb (www.usgenweb.org) may prove successful.
It is important to keep in mind that if the problem is a difficult one, the answer may not be available online, and the problem may be unsolved as of yet. Clues and finding aids to off-line records may be online, but the actual answer may lie in an un-microfilmed box of county court records deep in the mountains of Virginia or in an isolated courthouse on the Kansas prairie.
Women Were Treated Differently
For much of American history, under a concept called coverture, a woman's separate legal status ended upon her marriage. The married female typically could not own real property and derived her citizenship from that of her husband.
Today this is no longer true, but during the period where most of us have genealogical brick walls, it was. Keep in mind that most laws regarding a woman's right to own property are governed by state statute and have changed over time, sometimes gradually over a period of years. Consequently what is true in one state at one point in time might not be true in another state at another time.
Half of our ancestors are women, and like everyone else, I have encountered these problems before. I've discussed some of them in previous columns:
"Married to An Alien"
"The Reality of Sarah's Reality"
"1856 Illinois Probate Guide: The Dower"
Women have not always been treated equally in American history. Learning about the differences makes us better genealogists.
Determining Where She Went After Her Marriage
Let's take a look at some examples of situations where records
beyond the marriage record might contain the desired name:
What Is the Key Here?
In some records it will be clear who the missing female is (listed as a sister in an obituary, or as a niece in an estate settlement). In other records the relationship might not be given (an informant on a death certificate, a witness to a marriage, etc.). In these latter cases a “hunch” that the individual is the missing female will have to be confirmed with other records.
Is Your Missing Female Hiding near Other Relatives?
Also look at all the gravestones near your missing female's parents and siblings. Is there a grave with a burial whose first name is that of your missing female? Family members were frequently buried near each other and there is a chance that you have walked right by your missing female relative while looking at her parents' or sibling's stones.
Did She go With a Sibling or Another Family Member?
In most cases, a female who heads west in the early nineteenth century didn't strike out entirely on her own. Chances are she has a brother, uncle, or other relative or neighbor who has gone west before her or at the same time. The problem is finding out who that relative is and where they went. For this reason another approach to locating missing females is to completely research their other family members in hopes that this will also locate the missing female relative.
Sum It Up
Locating missing female relatives is not always easy. Some
useful approaches are:
Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.rootdig.com/, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2004, MyFamily.com.