Female Lines


Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

Any of you who have been researching for more than a year know how difficult it can be to trace the female lines in the family. There are a few reasons for this. In most cases a woman changes her surname when she marries. The second largest reason is that in years past there were very few records that were specific records for women. Most were male oriented as women had few if any rights. I will talk about these records later.

You often find women listed as Mrs. husband’s forename and surname in obituaries, newspaper article, committee reports and on and on. She may appear in a record under a nickname, example Kate = Kathryn, etc. Then there is the additional challenge when a woman marries for a second or third time. Now you will need to figure out who she was married to at the time of the event. This does not even begin to speak to the issue of how you find her maiden name. So, what can you do.?

You might want to begin with her obituary as it usually lists her parents. Now that you have a maiden name, you will want to search for a birth record. In the days before civil records, you will need to look for baptismal records. This of course will require knowledge of or an educated guess of the family’s religious affiliation. The advent of civil records may not guarantee that the birth was recorded in a timely manner. So, if you do not find a birth record in the time period that you expect it, try looking in delayed records for at least a couple of years after the date you have.
Marriage records may contain a great deal of pertinent information. Take the time to look at both civil and religious records as each entity recorded different information. Look at marriage records for additional husbands even if you do not descend from that man as there may be additional facts that you did not previously have. Newspaper announcements often give you a great deal of information including the members of the bridal party or those who assisted at the wedding and reception. At least a few of these are probably family members and will lead to other records. Along with marriage records, divorce records may provide needed information such as the names of her children.

A second look at an obituary can often give you much information as it may list children that you are not aware of and names of out of town guests who attended thus providing you with additional research opportunities. Take a close look at other family members obituaries for possible clues for your female family members. Death records in addition to the obituary would include a death certificate and the tombstone. Either may include a maiden name if you still have not determined what it is. For those of who you live at a distance from the burial site of your female family member, you might ask someone on Find A Grave or a member of the local historical society to take a look for you. Ask them to photograph both the front and the back of the stone. Death certificates are public records and can be obtained. For more detailed information, Google “obtaining a death certificate”.

These suggestions are just a start. Next month I will talk about other records that may be helpful, such as census records, land records and wills and probates. Don’t forget that we are open on Monday evenings from 4pm to 8pm thru the month of October.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to jamestowngazette.com and visit Janet’s own web page.