Monday, August 26, 2013

Women's Equality Day and Your Ancestor's Right to Vote

Suffragettes on way to Boston via Flickr the Commons

Today is Women's Equality Day which commemorates the 19th amendment and focuses on the continuing work for women's equality in other realms of life. You can read more about the history behind the day from the National Women's History Project.

Want to learn more about how suffrage affected your ancestor? One way to interest the non-genealogists in your family is to tell the story of how and when the women in the family got the right to vote.

Ratified in August 1920, the nineteenth amendment granted women full suffrage by declaring “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex…” 

What's important to remember is that some women had the right to vote in local or state elections prior to the 19th amendment. Other women, continued to be disenfranchised after 1920. For example, women who had lost their citizenship due to marrying a non-citizen were not allowed to vote. Women living in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico didn't gain the right to vote until  1935 and while the Indian Citizenship Act (1924) gave citizenship to all Native Americans it wasn't until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act was passed.

To learn more about the history of female suffrage in the state you are researching,  refer to the multi-volume  History of Woman Suffrage edited by Susan B. Anthony, et al. Volume four includes information on suffrage history in each state, as well as Britain and Canada. These volumes are fully digitized and available at Internet Archive and can be found under the category  “Women—Political Rights.”

To find voting records consult websites like, under their Census and Voter Lists page.  FamilySearch  has microfilmed voting records, to find them search on your ancestor’s place and then the category “voting registers.” To learn more about voting records for a state, search on the FamilySearch Research Wiki

In some cases, you may find a specialized database found on a library or archive website. For example, Alexandria Library  has the database entitled Voter Registrations in Alexandria, Virginia. African-Americans, 1902-1954 with over 2,000 names. 

Cyndi’s List has locality specific links for voting records on the page Voters, Poll Books, Electoral Records .

To learn more about women and their suffrage rights, consult the book The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women’s Genealogy by Christina Kassabian Schaeffer.

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