I have often thought that I would love to take some law classes so that I could better understand some of the legalities that surrounded our ancestor's lives. It would be great if someone offered law classes for genealogists that just wanted to learn and don't want to actually become lawyers, (because well, we just want to do genealogy.)
With that said, this week's suggestion may be a little difficult to understand and quite frankly I am simplifying it greatly and would encourage you to read the article mentioned below.
Quoting from the excellent article by Donn Devine entitled The Widow's Dower Interest , "Dower was a widow's right to a lifetime interest in one-third of all land owned by her husband." So if he was to sell this land she would have to relinquish her dower. She was suppose to do this willingly but my guess is that that was not always the case.
Let me just say that Devine's article is fabulous and goes into detail that you need to fully understand this, so instead of reinventing the genealogical wheel I would encourage you to read the article.
Yesterday I was looking for some information on an ancestor and found information about this ancestress relinquishing some land her husband wanted to sell. You can see that here . This is information you might find with deeds or in a transcribed deed book like the one I was reading on Google Books. Now, you won't find a relinquishment of dower everywhere in the United States. Devine points out that these relinquishments would only be found in the eastern and midwestern United States where laws were derived from English common law.
Other articles about dower include Michael John Niell's 1856 Illinois Probate Guide: The Dower and the definition of Dower at the 'Lectric Law Library.
This is a great example of yet another place to find information about your elusive female ancestors.