Tracing Your Female Ancestors

mm014Moorshead Magazines is the publisher of Family Chronicle, and Internet Genealogy. Occasionally, the company releases a special collection of articles on a key genealogical topic. Tracing Your Female Ancestors is the latest special release by the company. Published in a magazine format, this release offers 16 articles on key areas of Women’s history and genealogical research.

“The more I though about the challenges facing family historians research the women in our family trees, the more I started to question the way we research women.”

This quote comes from the first paragraph of the introduction. The author continues to state that female ancestors are different and shouldn’t be researched in the same way as male ancestors. Men and women typically had different “paper trails.” This magazine looks at the history of women, their roles in society, suffrage, their stories, and research tips and resources to help in their search by the family historian. Such articles as “25 Online Resources”, “Manuscript Collections”, and “Women in Photos” help the reader directly with the where and hows of research. While other articles, like “Women & Divorce”, “Women and the Vote”, and “Women in the Civil War”, help the reader gain perspective on the roles women have played in society. Understanding these roles help researchers not only better understand their female ancestors, but also can assist in discovering new ways to think about one’s approach to female research; in other words, the research learns to follow the correct “paper trail.”

The bulk of these articles were written by author Gena Philibert-Ortega, who has over 20 years experience in the area of female genealogical research. Maureen Taylor, author and photo expert, contributed the article on “Women in Photos”.

Here is a full contents listing:


Tips and strategies to help you get started in your search for your female ancestors

Finding Your Pre-1850 Female Ancestors

We look at some key sources and offer some alternatives to locating female ancestors before 1850

25 Online Sources

A list of key sites you should add to your internet toolbox

Women’s Clubs

When traditional sources aren’t enough, try locating you ancestor in clubs and other organization

Tracing Your African American Female Ancestors

There are many resources available for researching your African American female ancestors

Jane S. Chatham Case Study

A look at one lady’s very difficult life and the sources used to piece it together

Women and Divorce

They didn’t do that in the good old days: researching your female ancestor’s divorce

Women’s Work

Women were more than just housewives; they filled many different roles in peacetime and wartime

Secret Lives of Women

Search for your female ancestor in cookbooks, journals, quilting books and more

Manuscript Collections

Manuscript collections can uncover details to help illustrate the life of your female ancestor

University Library Sources

University libraries are great repositories for additional information that might otherwise go unnoticed

Women in Photos

Renowned photo expert, Maureen Taylor, shines some light on finding your ancestor in photographs

Women and the Vote

Knowing more about the history of female suffrage can point you toward valuable resources

Women in the Civil War

You might be surprised to find out what your female ancestor did during the Civil War

Grandma Was an Alien?

A look at how women became aliens in their own country

Writing Their Story

Telling the story of your female ancestor is an important step in your ongoing genealogy research


Copies of Tracing Your Female Ancestors are available from Family Roots Publishing; a .PDF format is also available, just click here to order the electronic version.

Genealogy at a Glance: Finding Female Ancestors

There are several disadvantages to researching female ancestors, compared to males, as described by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack in her guide Genealogy at a Glance: Finding Female Ancestors. First, women have long been the “silent partner” in most marriages. Historically, men handled virtually all business; thus, records only held the names of men. In many places and cultures, women were not allowed to act for themselves in the courts, in business transactions, nor were they allowed to even own land. Add to this the cultural variances that had women take, or not take, their husband’s surname; especially, were legal matters applied.

Clearly, if many traditional records used to find men won’t work to find women, then an alternate course of research is needed. Carmack  provides insight into these difficulties, help in determining information like mainden names and parents, and resources where a women is likely to be found. Add to this a short glossary and some online resources and the result is a well-rounded, quick guide to female ancestral research.

Sharon DeBartolo Carmack is a certified genealogy expert. Carmack has authored two books, Carmack’s Guide To Copyright & Contracts and You Can Write Your Family History, has written four additional Genealogy at a Glance guides, and has written many articles, some of which can be found in Heritage Quest Magazine on CD. Here are the other four guides she has written:

Like all the Genealogy At A Glance sheets, this guide is a four-page, full-color limited brochure meant to be easily stored and sized to take with you when conducting related research. In this guide, Humphrey provides plenty of additional tips and further references to please the most avid researcher.. The Contents of this sheet include:

Quick Facts and Important Dates

The Challenge of Researching Your Female Ancestors

Determining Maiden Names and Parents

Other Sources Created about and for Women

  • Divorce Petitions
  • Insanity Records
  • Naturalizations
  • Widows’ Pensions
  • Dower Releases

Sources Created by Women


Other Online Sources


Find the help you need, and carry it with you, with your own copy of Genealogy At A Glance: Finding Female Ancestors available at Family Roots Publishing; Price: $8.77.

Chasing Women: Finding Your Female Ancestors

“Locating the names of our female ancestors can be difficult – principally because their names changed upon marrying. Women historically have not produced as many records as their husbands, since women’s suffrage largely did not exist until the twentieth century. This adds to the difficulty of finding their names, let alone the details of their lives. There are two major search areas that we deal with in locating women’s names, the first being the search for their maiden names, and secondly, the search for their married names. One search can be as hard as the other, and you may find you are doing both types of searches on the same women.”

Chasing Women: Finding Your Female Ancestors, a webinar on CD present by Leland Meitzler, examines potential sources of data, from the obvious to the less-often-considered options. Topic areas covered include:

  • Marriage applications, indexes, consents, and registers
  • Bible records
  • Federal, state, and territorial censuses
  • Probate and funeral home records
  • War records (mention of War of 1812 and Civil War pension records)
  • Use of middle names
  • and much more…

Web seminars, or “Webinars,” have quickly become one of the most popular ways for professionals and companies to share information with large groups of individuals from across the country, or even around the world, without the high cost of travel. Webinars are just like seminars. A large group of “attendees” can come and watch a presentation at a given time. Webinars are nice, since they are usually recorded and can be watched again at a later time. The only real downside to webinars is the video stream can be slow for some people. Depending in large part on the viewer’s own personal Internet connection speed, video may or may not play well. The age of a person’s computer may also contribute to slow playback. To counter these playback problems, some individuals and companies offer the option to buy their webinars on CD. CD’s offer the opportunity to play these webinars on almost any computer at anytime, without the worry of connection issues.

Chasing Women: Finding Your Female Ancestors was originally presented on 16 February 2011 and runs 1 hour 21 minutes. The presentation CD includes a link to a four-page handout. An active Internet connection is needed to download the handout.

About Leland Meitzler:

Leland K. Meitzler founded Heritage Quest in 1985, and has worked as Managing Editor of both Heritage Quest Magazine and The Genealogical Helper. He currently operates Family Roots Publishing Company, writes daily at, writes the weekly Genealogy Newsline, conducts the annual Salt Lake Christmas Tour, and speaks nationally, having given over 2000 lectures since 1983.

Viewer comments about this presentation:

  • Leland’s info gave me a few more options in finding my historical ladies. This may just pull my ox out of the ditch.
  • There was a lot of good information. I can hardly wait to try it out.
  • Learned a few new tips and it was nice to get a refresher on old ones. I really liked hearing about the German Parrish Registries, that’s going to be very helpful!
  • Leland was terrific! Informative, entertaining, and enjoyable.
  • Great info; could hear the passion in Leland’s voice
  • Enjoyed the many hints and can’t wait to try out a few. Have enjoyed Leland’s work with Heritage Quest and Gen. Helper in the past.
  • I like having all of these sources in one place. When I finish checking one, I can just move to the next source. It will give some order to my research.
  • I got so much info from the class. Can’t wait to go searching with all the new ideas I just learned. Thanks so much for offering this webinar. I would be very interested in any other webinars that Leland gives.
  • The information shared was excellent. The pace was good and I like the opportunity for Q&A at the end. I also like the ability to download his handouts. This is the first Legacy webinar I have attended. I hope to come to more.
  • Great ideas, I think I can now break a brickwall that is twenty years old!
  • This webinar certainly opened my eyes to the importance of using records that I have not tried before.
  • Soooo much good information of places to look. I’m encouraged! Thank you.
  • Excellent review for those who have been researching a long time. Also, a great guide for newcomers.
  • Leland was fantastic…he has given me so many more options for finding my female ancestors…I can hardly wait to get started. I especially found the German Parish Records information very helpful as I had hit a brick wall on many of them, now I have something to go on…thank you for these webinars.
  • A LOT of great information! I have renewed energy now to find a few of my female in-laws!


Get your own copy of Chasing Women: Finding Your Female Ancestors from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $9.95. Enjoy the presentation again and again on your own computer.

The Hidden Half of the Family

For the greater part of American history, and like most of the World, the United States has been largely a patriarchal society. As such, through law and custom, men and husbands ruled the affairs of home and were the recognized ambassador of the family in political and worldly affairs. Often, only a mans name appeared on wills, land records, pension records, census records, and other such records of genealogical concern. When mentioned, women, mothers and daughters, were often “hidden” under the use of terms like “Mrs.,” “Mistress,” “goodwife,” “wife of,” “daughter of,” etc. This makes finding the names and details of female ancestors more difficult than one’s male ancestry.

The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy, by Christina Kassabian Schaefer, demonstrates h0w to recover the identities of one’s female ancestors. The authors solution to finding ancestors in a patriarchal history that often obscured a women’s identity is to find those government, legal and social area where the unequivocal identification of both men and women was custom. Schaefer expounds on her belief that, “the legal status of women at any point in time is the key to unraveling the identity of the female ancestor.” She examines the history and laws, both federal and state, granting freedoms to women like owning real estate in her own name, ability to enter contracts, devise wills, and other freedoms awarded only to men prior to these changes of law.

The book is broken down state by state. Each state includes historical dates relevant to the state’s history and for key changes in the laws pertinent to women’s rights and to records in which women many appear. Such areas of change include marriage and divorce, property and inheritance, suffrage, citizenship, censuses, and other such items. For each state, there is also information for finding marriage and divorce records as well as selected resources for women’s history.

Table of Contents

Table of Illustration


How to Use This Book










District of Columbia





















New Hampshire

Newe Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia







Order The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy from Family Roots Publishing; Item #: GPC5179 , Price: $41.33.

Womens’ Property Rights in America

Genealogist Sharon Tate Moody wrote an excellent article this past week on the history of women’s property rights in America for her column in the “Life” section of Tampa Bay Tribune. Following is a teaser.

Modern-day genealogists often find it incomprehensible that for periods of history, married women couldn’t make wills. This oddity was ruled by a legal concept called coverture.

A single woman was a feme sole. Legally she could buy and sell property, and she could make a will to leave that property to persons of her choice. But when a woman married, she became a feme covert — her identity and her right to own property merged into that of her husband. Legally she ceased to exist.

Since she didn’t exist, she couldn’t own property, and if she couldn’t own property, she had nothing to leave in a will. It makes sense. Sort of.

Understanding this concept and knowing when it applied to a particular place are important. Initially the concept was in place in every state. In 1809, Connecticut led the way in passing the Married Women’s Property Acts, giving married women equal legal right with single women. Throughout the 19th century all states gradually passed similar laws. To learn more about this concept, go to

A researcher must determine when this act was passed in a given state in order determine its impact on specific ancestors. The easiest way to find out when a specific state changed its laws is to put the terms “married women’s property acts (name a state)” into a search engine such as Google.

Read the full article in the October 16, 2011 edition of Tampa Bay Online.