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From the Green Valley News, Wednesday March 16, 2005, page C3

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Donít forget the women

March is Womenís History Month. First celebrated in California in March 1978 as Womenís History Week, it went national in 1981. Congress voted in 1987 to expand the national celebration to encompass the entire month of March. Today Womenís History celebrations have sparked a new interest in uncovering womenís forgotten heritage.

For too long, women were the forgotten links in our ancestry, recognized only as the mother of a manís children. Traditional genealogies followed only the male line. If a man had no sons the family was said to have "daughtered out" and the line was dropped at that point. As genealogists today, we owe it to our female ancestors to try to learn as much about their lives as possible.

Women are difficult to research. Prior to the twentieth century we had few rights. We couldnít vote, seldom owned property, couldnít testify in court, didnít pay taxes, seldom left wills, werenít employed, and left few records normally relied upon by genealogists. Land records are one of the few sources where a womanís name appears. A man could buy property without his wifeís permission, but law required her permission before he could sell. If she inherited property she couldnít dispose of it without her husbandís permission.

As families began migrating west away from the early coastal settlements, births were seldom officially recorded. In the absence of birth records, the only link to a womanís family and her maiden name may be her fatherís will or estate settlement. Marriages were usually recorded even in frontier settlements, however the record may have belonged to a circuit rider or justice of the peace. A family Bible might contain clues to a womanís maiden name but locating the family member who owns the Bible today is another challenge. Research every name you find in a familyís census entry; that strange surname may belong to a brother or other relative and can help identify your female ancestor.

To enliven a female ancestorís story, background material is available in books such as: The American Family in the Colonial Period by Arthur W. Calhoun, Dale Taylorís Everyday Life in Colonial America From 1697-1783, Jack Larkinís The Reshaping of Everyday Life 1790-1840 and Everyday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon. Become familiar with major events in American history and consider your female ancestor in light of her times. Donít judge her by todayís standards but by those of her era.

When a woman remarried within months of her husbandís death we may question her haste, but she probably had little choice. Women were often left with several small children when a husband died suddenly. Few early American women had experience handling money or conducting business. Widows were easy targets for the unscrupulous that preyed on them as they tried to keep the family together, work the farm and do all the household tasks.

Consider the women in your ancestry and determine to learn more about their lives. Study the history of areas in which your families lived and become familiar with all the available records that may help identify a womanís origin.

Next month, "Where Do I Start?"

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