Kinsearching April 21, 2013




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

    As numerous genealogists know from first-hand experience, locating information about women and their lineage can be very difficult. Since females had few legal rights prior to the twentieth century, they did not leave many records during their lifetime. Often, only their given name was known because they changed their surname when they married or they may have married several times, resulting in several surname changes. On the other hand, depending on their ethnicity, females kept their maiden name in legal documents, making it harder to discover who they married. For these reasons, women have been called the “the silent partner” or the “hidden half” of the family. Despite these obstacles, data may be found about many women if one knows where to look. Some basic recommendations can be found in a new addition to the popular “Genealogy at a Glance” series: Finding Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. Following the standard format of the series, Carmack condenses into four laminated pages fundamental resources and suggestions that will help genealogists overcome many of the “brick walls” encountered in the course of their family research.

     Carmack begins with a “quick facts and important dates” section in which she supplies a brief historical background about a few turning points that greatly affected the lives of American women. Among the events are the acknowledgement of English common law in 1769; the establishment of voting rights; and the 1922 naturalization laws concerning non-American women who married American citizens. She also highlights the fact that the 1850 U. S. census was the first population schedule to list the given name of every female.

     Next, the compiler discusses the challenges of tracing female forebears and lists the most logical church, town, and county documents regarding a woman’s maiden name and the names of her parents. Among these are marriage intentions, licenses, bonds, banns, returns or registers, and certificates. Another source, especially for individuals who owned a vast amount of property, is prenuptial contracts.

     In the section titled “Other Sources Created about and for Women,” Carmack gives a short outline history of divorce petitions, insanity records, naturalizations, widows’ pensions, and dower releases. She explains where to find them, how to use them, what details may be found in them, and some terms (for instance, insane asylum) that have changed over the course of time. Literate women sometimes created their own sources, which often furnish material about their pedigree. These include family Bibles, letters, and diaries or journals. Don’t overlook the fact that your female ancestor may have had literate kinfolks who may have mentioned her in their extant family papers.

     After each section, Carmack furnishes research tips and titles of references to check for more information. She ends the work with a glossary of terms (grass widow or relict, for example) genealogists may encounter while tracing women forebears and a list of online sources.

     Everyone has female ancestors. Yet many genealogists focus on male lines because they assume men are easier to track. However, that may not always be the case, particularly if the female descends from a prominent family. Finding Female Ancestors can serve as a useful tool to inspire researchers hesitant about tracing the “hidden half” of their family tree.

     To the guide's price of $8.95, buyers should add the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $4.50 for one item and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $6.00 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional item. The guide (item order 888) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Genealogical Publishing Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, MD 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website

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