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From the Green Valley News, Wednesday March 8 2006, page B7

Genealogy Today, by Betty Malesky

Womenís History Month

The National Womenís History Project asks, "If we donít promote womenís history, who will?"

While Iím not a political activist stumping for womenís rights, uncovering our female ancestorsí forgotten heritage is our duty as family historians.

Since March is Womenís History Month, letís use it to pay homage to the women in our past. When we lift them out of the shadows, we find stories of courage and strength that inspire us and show the role ordinary women played in building our nation.

Many of our generational grandmothers left no photographs and existing public records disclose little about their daily lives. How do we discover more about these women who left few records?

Early in my research I found that many women in my ancestry had been widowed when their children were young. Curious about how they coped in a "manís world," I began studying social histories. As we learn social mores, read their community newspapers, and search for every available court and civil record, we can understand women in the context of their time.

Since the husband owned all household property, much can be learned about the wifeís life from his estate inventory. Itís not unusual to find cooking utensils, tableware, carpets, bedding, spinning wheels, looms, flax, yards of various fabrics, and if the family is prosperous, a looking glass. All of these items were more commonly utilized by women in the household than by men.

Beginning in 1850, census records offer insight into families. Researching every person in a household, especially those different surnames, may reveal the maiden name of a married woman in the home. Neighbors also may be related by blood or geographic ties.

Study the occupations listed on censusesómany women did more than "keeping house." My 2nd great grandmother, a widow in 1860, is listed as "farmer." Iíve found women artists, public school teachers, music teachers, dressmakers, nurses, and store clerks. To support her family, a great grandmother, widowed at age 35, operated a boarding house in Scranton, Pennsylvania for 30 years. The 1900 census lists seven single men age 22 to 66 boarding in her home while her 16 year old granddaughter helped with the housework.

Diaries, letters, photos, scrapbooks, and store account books supply details of our female ancestorsí lives. Regular sales of butter to the local store in exchange for large quantities of sugar and flour, led to speculation that a 3rd great grandmother baked for families besides her own. Look for records of this type within your family, as well as in area historical societies and libraries. Check with cousins who may have family ephemera they would allow you to copy.

Finally, make use of the Internet. A first cousin twice removed, born in 1882 in Cleveland, Ohio, wrote a memoir of her early life with her widowed mother and sister. Our two branches of the family lost touch with each other over 100 years ago, but her great grandson found my query on the Web. He emailed this wonderful piece of history packed with first-hand observations of late 19th century life and events that also affected my immediate family.

Select an elusive woman ancestor. Review your existing data for clues you may have overlooked. Then develop a plan and pursue it. Perhaps the secret to her identity is hiding in your file cabinet.

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