March is Women’s History Month – an opportunity to honor the women who paved the way with their contributions to history, society, and culture. Women have often been relegated to the back rooms of history, only to be mentioned when they step out of their expected roles. Daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, wives, and grandmothers play important roles in our upbringing. This month we acknowledge them, and it is the perfect time to learn more about their lives.
As a genealogist, I often hear how hard it is to trace the maternal line, and I have encountered this myself many times. Women had few rights before the 1970s and rarely were identified on their own without a man attached to them – a father, a husband, a brother, a son. And yet, our female ancestors held the family together as they labored, cared, and nurtured our ancestors. Most of us can name our mothers, our grandmothers, and perhaps our great grandmothers, but knowing women earlier in our lineage becomes a blur. Few may know these women’s maiden names, let alone what they went through. You are missing out on half of your family if you don’t pursue these branches.
Some helpful hints when researching women is to look for records concerning the husband or the son. This may seem counterintuitive, but many records concerning the men list breadcrumbs to the women in their lives. Many birth, marriage, and death certificates ask for the names of the parents, including the mother’s maiden name. You will also need to know the name of the husband as many women were referred to by his full name, such as Mrs. John Doe. A unique record that is available from our collection is the Postal Forwarding Directory, which often included the woman’s first name to make mail delivery easier. This is especially important because before 1913, a woman was not mentioned by name in the directory unless she was widowed or a spinster. Another brick wall can be when women have multiple marriages. Because a woman changed her last name to her husband’s, following her can be difficult. You must know the previous last name to find the next one. Children are a great way to track a woman’s marriages, as they usually kept their father’s name.
Some of the best stories in my family tree come from the maternal line and have helped me to understand who I am, the strong women I am descended from, and what they went through so I could be here. This March, I encourage you to start your search. Due to the pandemic, Ancestry LE is available remotely through June 30, 2021. For assistance with your research and getting started, watch this video. By understanding her story, you can better understand yours.