Woman on Horseback Jumping Car, Gleichen
Postcards from the Past, PC 1620
I signed up for a webinar that was called Chasing Women – it wasn’t for swinging singles, it was about finding your female ancestors. The presenter was Leland Meitzler, a well-known figure in the genealogical community.
Anyone who’s done even a little bit of genealogy knows the difficulties connected with finding female ancestors. We change our names, fib about our ages, change our hair colour (oops, that last one has nothing to do with genealogy!) You know what I mean, right? For example, I found my great-great-grandmother’s death registration and she was listed as Mrs. Stewart Coghlan – no first name, no maiden name. Not a particularly helpful document for tracking down her family line.
The webinar suggested some very good resources to help us get over the hurdles we encounter when researching the females in our family. First, a couple of very good books to help with “matrilineal descent” is The Hidden Half of the Family by Christina Schaefer and A Genealogists Guide to Discovering your Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. Although the emphasis is on American research, both contain a number of research paths that could be applied to any nationality.
So what did Leland recommend? First he listed what he called the “no-brainers”, those resources we would check anyway like marriage documents, family Bibles, death certificates, birth certificates, obituaries and the like. It was really driven home to me this weekend in our Family History Coaching program just how valuable an obituary can be. A customer showed me his great-grandmother’s obituary which listed all of her daughters by their married names and her brothers – hence, her maiden name.
Leland also suggested some more obscure ways of finding maiden names and married names. Things like the census, where, although the woman is listed by her married name, there may be an in-law or two living with the family. Probate records may also list daughters by married name. Sometimes cemetery transcripts can show family members buried next to each other, or land records may show land being sold to family members. Newspapers are invaluable. Gossip columns may include former names or indications of relationships. Other clues can sometimes be gained by looking at family names, sometimes the maiden name of the mother is used as a middle name. Local histories may include information regarding maiden names, other family members and the married names of daughters. Family collections may be lodged in local history societies or in archives or libraries in the town of origin. That is always worth checking.
You can also hope that your research leads you to a country where women retain their maiden names or combine them with their husband’s surnames. For example, French women use their maiden names on legal documents. In Germany and Poland, Catholic registers list deaths by the maiden name and in Hispanic countries names of the mother and father are often combined.
Whatever your path, remember that more and more information is being indexed, more and more is being digitized. What you couldn’t find last year may be easy to find this year, so don’t give up hope.
Womens' Orchestra, 1910
Postcards from the Past, PC 1744