in 52 Weeks
It is well known among genealogists that researching female ancestors tends to be more difficult than male ancestors. Historically, fewer records were collected of women. For example, the United States census only collected the names of heads of households for the first six census, 1790 to 1840. Women were not typically the heads of households during that time period. Also, prior to the 20th century, military service records are primarily men. Lastly, land ownership was nearly exclusive to men until the early 20th century and land records are among the best preserved. So, what to do to find a female ancestor who lived prior to the last century? Here are a few of the strategies I have successfully employed.
Churches, particularly those in New England and Pennsylvania, made records of births, baptisms and marriages. Some even made communion and attendance records. If you have a female ancestor living in Colonial America look for them among the early church records that have been scanned and indexed. If you do not have their maiden name, you will need to search using their husbands name. If you do not discover a marriage record with her maiden name, there is a good chance of discovering it on a child’s baptism record. One other sort of church record I have found are Quaker and Deacon meeting minutes. Look for these sorts of records associated with the place your ancestor lived. Even if you do not find your female ancestor mentioned, you will discover the conditions of the community in which she lived.
If your female ancestor outlived her husband, there is a possibility of finding a filing for a military widow’s pension claim. Even if you have not found her husband’s service record, check for the widows filing. A widow of a Revolutionary or War of 1812 veteran would seek a pension possibly as late as 1830 to 1880. Where veteran’s pension files are detailed about the service, I have found widow’s filings are detailed about the family. Details about marriage, family members and where they lived can all be found in a widow’s pension claim file.
Women did not typically own property prior to the 20th century, and therefore left no probate records. However, do not overlook information about your female ancestors that can be found in the probate records of their male relations, including in-laws. I have highlighted in previous posts the details I have discovered in probate records regarding my female ancestors. Information about their household goods, finances, the names of their children and more. Also, consider Orphan Court records for any female (or male for that matter) ancestors whose father died while they were still a minor. It was not unusual for minor surviving children to have a guardian assigned, even if their mother was still alive.
This is a transcription of an Orphans Court record from 1811 when my 3rd great-grandmother, Isabella Gillespie 1797-1833, and her siblings, was assigned a guardian after the death of her father, Thomas Gillespie 1766-1810.  Tracking her guardian has led to information about Isabella.
20th Century Records
If your female ancestors had descendants who lived during the 20th century you should look for them in the death records and obituaries of those descendants. Most states’ death certificates include a request for the maiden name of the deceased’s mother. For this reason, research your female ancestors’ children, every one of them, not just the child you descend from. Have you heard of delayed record of birth? Many elderly Americans did not have birth certificates when Social Security was first implemented in the 1940’s. As such, many Americans born before birth certificates were regularly issued, recorded one for themselves and included their mother’s maiden names and possibly her date and place of birth.
I had a brick wall at a 3rd great-grandmother, but then the death certificate of her daughter (my 2nd great-grandmother) was scanned and indexed a couple years ago. On that death certificate was the previously unknown maiden name of the 3rd great-grandmother and my brick wall was completely busted. That one piece of data led to much more being discovered about this hidden branch of my family.
One last 20th century source I like for female ancestors are newspapers. Women show up on social pages more often than men. I particularly like finding wedding announcements with loads of details and photos. And, newspapers do provide a glimpse of the lifestyles our ancestors lived, including the cost of food and fashion styles.
I found this wedding announcement for my father’s 1st cousin Irene Osborne on Newspapers.com. This is the only adult photo I have seen of Irene and previous to finding this I did not know her husband’s name.
Female ancestors can be difficult to research due to a lack of traditional records. Get creative and look for women in the places where they live: church, social settings, widow’s pensions and remembered by the men in their lives. Also, more old records and documents are being scanned and indexed everyday thanks to genealogical societies, state archives and libraries. Many of these organizations are particularly focused on documents that highlight the lives of women. Today is a good day to re-visit your research of female ancestors.
- Blog post, Family Finds: At Worship;; https://barblafara.com/john-baldwin-osborn-at-worship/
- Publication, The Records of the Baptist Church at the Scotch Plains in East New Jersey in the year of our Lord 1747 [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Accessed at Ancestry,
- Entry for John LaFara, “War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files” NARA, Catalog ID: 564415 Pension# 44214, Page: 5, Accessed at Fold3, https://www.fold3.com/image/314967181
- Blog post, Family Finds: Letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary;
- Entry for Isabella Gillespie, Orphan Court Records, 1811-1814; Source: Gateway to The West, Vol 1; Place: Butler County, Ohio; Ancestry.com. [database on-line]. Accessed at Ancestry,
Born Takeo Furukawa on 15 March 1883 in Tottori-Ken, Tokyo, Japan, little is documented of his early childhood. Family oral history stories say that the young Takeo experienced hunger, poverty and the loss of his family. Additionally, the stories tell of friendship, spiritual learning and scholarship.
My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne, lived at over 20 addresses around Indianapolis between 1876 and 1942. I thought it would be interesting to see all the old buildings and homes where he lived in my hometown of Indianapolis.
My great grandfather, David Louis Osborne (1848-1942), was a widower with two young sons in 1886 when he married Jennie Warbington (1857-1918) in Minneapolis on the 27th of May. I decided it was time to put sources to the story.
While working on a family photo project I decided it would be fun to compare side-by-side my father and his parents, at similar ages, to try and discover a family resemblance.
Jesse King was born in Ohio (probably in the vicinity of Chillicothe) in 1805, he was a son of Philip King and Mary Leah Wright, both of Pennsylvania. Philip King was a farmer, he married Leah Wright in 1801 in Somerset, PA, they had six children, of whom Jesse was the third.
A handwritten letter from Sarah Tucker Lafary to the then president of the United States, Grover Cleveland. It was her last appeal for a War of 1812 pension, sadly the pension was denied. The letter gives a glimpse of a woman who had no formal education, a poor farmers wife, then widow, mother of nine, she probably just wanted some independence through an income of her own.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 2: Challenge
So much about genealogy research is a challenge, perhaps the most common challenge is the ‘brick wall,’ meet Sarah Smith. 18?? – 1846
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 3: Unusual Name
The surnames in my tree are typical of common western European names. However, the name that is unusual among these names is MY surname: LaFara.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 6: Surprise!
Just when you think you know everything about an ancestor, surprise! I thought I knew most everything about my paternal great grandfather David L. Osborne, 1848-1942.
For all of us who are procrastinating about labeling photos I have one thing to say, “Be considerate of the genealogist of the future!” My maternal grandmother was very good about labeling old family photos, and there is one, in particular, I found very informative.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 10: Bachelor Uncle
My uncles are the marrying kind, sometimes more than once!
I had to go back four generations for a bachelor uncle, my great-great-great uncle Conrad Rumple, 1833-1911.
Conrad was an older brother to my great-great grandfather on my matrilineal line, William Rumple, 1839-1912.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 11: Large Family
My great-great grandparents, George Lafary and Catherine Landon, had a relatively small family, three of their six children survived to adulthood. However, they both came from large families of nine siblings and nearly all survived to marry and have children.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 13: In The Paper
It’s fun to find articles in the paper mentioning one of my relatives. Mostly they are birth, marriage, divorce and death events. But, it’s the oddball articles in the papers I like the most.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 14: Brick Wall
We all have a brick wall, that one ancestor who defies all research. I decided I would work at my brick walls by generation, I broke through the last of my 3rd great grandparent brick walls, now I am working on 4th great grandparents.
52 Ancestors, in 52 Weeks – Week 16: Out of Place
I realized I did not have a date of death for my great, great grandmother, Catherine Landon Lafary. A fresh search uncovered the date and much more. Out of place, but once discovered, everything fell into place.
I have many favorite photos among my collection of family artifacts. Currently, my favorite photo is of two little children from 1916 who were a complete mystery to me until last spring.