GenTips: Finding Those Elusive Female Ancestors

Posted March 16, 2009 by Geni | No Comment

In this post, Geni guest blogger and avid genealogist Lisa Alzo celebrates Women’s History month by helping you find your elusive female ancestors.

Do you have an elusive female ancestor that you just can’t
seem to find?

She may be the one listed as Mary (blank) in your pedigree
chart because you are unable to identify her maiden name; or the first wife of
your great-grandfather who seemed to just “disappear” after the 1880 census,
but you are unable to locate a death record or burial plot, or the great aunt
who supposedly came to the U.S. in the early 20th century but fails to turn up in
any online passenger list records.

There’s no question that finding our female ancestors can
seem a difficult and seemingly impossible task when compared to their male
counterparts. This is due in part to the fact that most genealogical records
prior to the 20th century focus on men since they typically owned the property,
controlled the government, businesses, etc. Few women left diaries or letters, especially immigrant women who spoke little or no English. But sometimes the problem isn’t that the records are not available, but rather how thoroughly we investigate the sources presented to us. However, with a solid research strategy, carefully honed
sleuthing skills, the ability to be open to possibilities and take risks, and a
good dose of patience and persistence, you can fill in those blanks. Here are a
few quick tips to get you started:

  1. Check all records for her husband, especially tax,
    property, and naturalization records. Also check records for siblings. Look for
    clues in photographs, newspapers, yearbooks, bridal books, employment, convent,
    military, and other records.
  2. Note the possibility of more than one marriage and
    multiple burial markers.
  3. Learn naming practices and patterns and note regional,
    cultural, and religious influences. Investigate different suffixes for female surnames (e.g., -ova; -datter,
    etc.) and add these to a woman’s name when searching databases.
  4. Pay attention to spelling variations, and
    handwriting/transcription errors when searching census, immigration or vital records.
  5. Create a timeline to place the woman’s life in historical
    context. provides customizable free timelines for each ancestor you include in your tree.  If you don’t have a Geni account, it takes just a few
    minutes to create one.

March is designated as “Women’s History Month.” Consider using this month to
focus your research on your female lines. With some extra sleuthing you just might be able to erase the blanks from your pedigree chart, to find those missing pieces and break through the silence to tell your female ancestors’ stories.

Author, instructor, and lecturer, Lisa A. Alzo teaches
the  “Finding Your Female
Ancestors” course for GenClas

If you enjoyed this Genealogy Tip by Lisa please join us again in a
couple weeks for more. In the meantime, get out there and interview
your family members and preserve your family history on Geni.


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