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The History of Women: Researching the Lives of Your Female Ancestors

March is Women's History Month and time to peruse the internet for websites that will help us learn more about what life was like for our female ancestors.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 863 (approx.)
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As we approach March and the celebration of Women's History Month, it's time to take a look at your genealogy database and see what you have found and documented on your female ancestors. I know that women can be elusive, especially American women with their changes in last names upon marriage and the lack of records they leave. To learn about ways to trace your elusive female ancestors, try reading books such as The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women's Genealogy by Christina K. Schaefer or Genealogist's Guide to Discovering your Female Ancestors by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack. Such books will help you with research techniques. The following are a few websites that might help you learn about what it was like to be a woman in your ancestor's time.

The website American Women's History: A Research Guide (http://frank.mtsu.edu/~kmiddlet/history/women.html) was written by Ken Middleton, a librarian at the Middle Tennessee State University Library. This guide is a wonderful resource for researching all aspects of women's lives throughout history. On this site are subject indexes, state indexes, and reference lists on a variety of subjects affecting women's lives. Clicking on the subject index provides you with a list of topics ranging from abolition to quilts. Clicking on the topic "quits" leads you to a list with clickable links to journals, digital collections and articles centered around quilts and quilting. Looking at the state index and searching on my home state of California provided me with links for historical societies, a reference to a research guide on Californian women and a link to a California history journal that has articles on women. If that wasn't enough, this website also includes a link for American women through time. This link provides you with years from prehistory to the 2000's. Click on a decade and you will be rewarded with an annotated list of websites that provide information about women during the years of that decade.

One of the sites featured in the 1920's era is the Digital Dress Costume website from the Wayne State University (http://dlxs.lib.wayne.edu/cgi/i/image/imageidx?xc=1;page=searchgroup;g=costumegroupic). A search of this website for the terms "women" and "1920" provided me with pictures of everything from hats to skirts in this collection.

The American Women's History website even includes genealogical website links such as the Utah Digital Newspaper Project (http://www.lib.utah.edu/digital/unews/) and the Historical Census Browser (http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/collections/stats/histcensus/index.html). This is a valuable resource for your internet research.

The Internet Women's History Sourcebook (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/women/womensbook.html#Africa) provides links to help better understand ancient women's history. Women in the Greek, Roman, African and medieval worlds are covered here. While it's true that this may be a little further back in history than we have traced our families, there are also some great resources on this site for modern history. The Jewish History section includes links on the holocaust, anti-Semitism, the state of Israel and Zionism. This type of information can be invaluable in understanding Jewish ancestors and their life experiences.

Do you have a female relative who has participated in the Olympics? Then you might be interested in The National Women's History Museum's online historical overview of American women in the Olympics (http://www.nmwh.org/home/home.html). Women were excluded from the 1896 games, but 19 women did participate in the 1900 Olympic games in Paris. That year, the Olympics would have their first female American Olympic winner, golfer Margaret Abbot. This online exhibit provides excellent information about early women Olympians and the history of women in the Olympics.

According to their website, the National Women's History Museum is "a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational institution dedicated to revealing, presenting, and celebrating the rich and diverse history of women's contributions that have shaped American culture and society." In addition to the Olympics exhibit there is a photo exhibit on women's suffrage. Through this online exhibit you can look at suffrage buttons, ribbons, and pictures. One of the pictures is of the "jailed for freedom" pin that was given by the National Woman's Party to all those who were jailed for protesting outside the White House. As we get excited about such online treasures as World War I draft cards, it's important to remember that American women did not receive the right to vote until 1920. This exhibit can help us as we recreate our early 19th century ancestor's lives.

I just loved the PBS series entitled, African American Lives (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/aalives/profiles.html). This series researched the family histories of nine prominent African Americans, four of whom were women. Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Dr. Mae Jemison, and Whoppi Goldberg were featured in this series. The show researched the ancestry of these women and then presented the findings. It ended with information about how DNA testing can provide the vital link for African Americans to find their African roots. The website for this series includes research methods, ideas for researching African American ancestors and lesson plans for educators. I would highly recommend this series.

As you research your ancestors this month, do as Abigail Adams counseled her husband John Adams to do, "Remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors." Yes, tracing women ancestors can be more difficult but tracing only the men leaves you with only half of your family story.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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