Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Four Thoughts about Researching Female Ancestors

Suffrage Hay Wagon. From Library of Congress, Flickr:The Commons. 
This last week I've had the great opportunity to speak to three societies all on the same topic, researching female ancestors. That opportunity provides a presenter with time to reflect on how they present the topic and what parts of the presentation work and what doesn't. With that time for reflection, and hours before I present the topic again, I wanted to point out four thoughts behind researching women.

1. It Takes a Community. Elizabeth Shown Mills says it best,  our ancestors didn't live in a vacuum, they had a FAN club (friends, acquaintances and neighbors). When researching women, it's imperative to look at her community including her church, schools, stores, service providers, neighbors, in-laws, cousins, etc.  It's in the writing of others, individuals and groups,  found in manuscript collections that we  find rich data about our female ancestors.

2. Genealogists Search Government Documents but There is More to Research. As genealogists we cut our research teeth, so to speak, by researching government documents like censuses, vital records, tax documents and military records. That's great and we should search those sources when we research. Once those are exhausted there is more to be researched. Library, archives, and museums hold wonderful primary source materials like manuscript collections that can inform our research. The drawback is that they are not indexed by surname and they aren't always digitized. That's ok, research requires more than just searching an online  database.

3. A Research Plan will Involve Various Types of Libraries, Archives, and Museums. To learn more about what types exist check out the Libraries/Archives section of  my Links page, found at the top of this blog.

4. In Order to Research Women, Consider their Activities. What did the women in your family tree take part in? Were they a member of a benevolent society? What about a women's group at church like the Dorcas Society or Relief Society? Could they have been a member of an auxiliary to a group their husband belonged to, like the Masons or the Oddfellows? Did they work (more women worked outside of the home then most people realize)? Think about the activities they were a part of and that will lead you to records.

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