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Finding Your Female Ancestors

As a genealogist, one of my main jobs is to reconstruct the lives of people who have passed. On International Women's Day, I'm reminded that it's usually the matriarchs and other women in our family trees lost to history, those whose stories are regularly not told because we simply don't have the records to know them. Women were regularly not recorded or their maiden names not included in records. In my own family, it's also many of the women where I hit a brickwall.

My mom (rocking the shades) with my aunt and grandmother.

My great-grandmother, Rose (Glazer) Rosenthal is the only great-grandparent of whom I don't have a photograph. I cannot quite figure out the parentage or siblings of my 3rd great-grandmother, Miriam (Rivkin) Isaacson, but I know her husband and my 3rd-great-grandfather, Abraham Isaac Isaacson's father, grandfather, and likely great-grandfather and 2nd great-grandfather. Even my 2nd great-grandmother lacked a name and a surname until I started digging deeper into the tree.

The Michelson sisters. My maternal grandmother is on the far right.

In honor of International Women's Day, I wanted to provide some strategies for locating those female ancestors in your family tree. It's not always possible, but there are some steps that can be taken toward exhaustive research.

· Locate vital records. These may be religious or civil or even an announcement in a local newspaper, but they are an important place to check. Marriage records that connect to a known husband may be the key step in unlocking a whole new branch in your tree.

· Find the obituary of the deceased female ancestor or that of her husband.

· Follow the records of the children. Depending on the time period and location, a vital record may include the mother’s maiden name. Even if your direct ancestor doesn’t have these records, move laterally and check your direct ancestor’s siblings as well.

· Check probate and land records. A will or a deed may provide the information to answer your questions.

· Join the FAN club (family/friends, associates, neighbors). Who lives next door to your female ancestor in the census? Who were the witnesses on that naturalization record? Who were the executors of a will or received an inheritance?

· Delve into local histories and newspapers. These accounts may be critical in solving the mystery of a female ancestor and her family.

The Rosenthals. My Nana, paternal aunt, and my paternal grandfather's sisters and nieces.

These are just a few strategies to locate your female ancestors. Celebrate the women in your tree by uncovering their history!


Please contact me at if you're interesting in exploring your family history. Free initial consultations.

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1 Comment

Mar 09, 2021

Hi Dr. A. Thank you for all the hints!

It is a disgrace that women were minimized and obscured. I did not myself realize the extent until I started doing my research. Even my mother, only one generation removed, who was severely injured in a auto accident in ‘49 that made the front page of the newspaper with pics as the other vehicle involved a armed hijacking by two, AWOL, US Marines, was only mentioned as “... an injured passenger...” while her uninjured husband was id by name and address.

Thanks again,

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