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# Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestors
Posted by Diane



March is Women's History Month, so it seems a good time to share tips and facts from Legal Genealogist Judy G. Russell's "Female Ancestors and the Law" chat for our Family Tree University Virtual Genealogy Conference last month.

You can get in-depth advice on researching women in your family in our Finding Female Ancestors Family Tree University course, which starts Monday, March 24. We also have a Discover Your Female Ancestors value pack with an Independent Study version of that course, plus a video class, a cheat sheet and more. 
  • Judy opened the chat with this interesting tidbit: Under common law, a girl could be betrothed at age 7. She was entitled to dower at age 9. She couldn’t choose a guardian until she was 14 or serve as executrix until 17, and wasn’t of full age until 21. But she could be married off at age 12.
  • A married woman was called a feme covert, which literally means a woman hidden behind the identity of her husband.

  • Judy recommended Black's Law Dictionary as a good resource for finding out what laws governed women's lives in the places your ancestors lived. It was first published in 1891, and you can see the 2nd edition, published in 1910, for free here. Look for printed editions at large libraries and law libraries.

  • A widowed woman would have to be named guardian of her own children in a probate court, or the court might name a male relative to look after the children's inherited property (even if they still lived with their mother).
  • An underage woman usually had to have a male guardian's permission to marry. Look for a record with the couple's marriage record.

  • Early divorces often had to be approved by state legislatures; look for these records in legislative records (usually at a state archive).

  • Prenuptial agreements, often found with deeds or court records, weren't uncommon, even early on.
  • Land records are excellent for researching women. A husband had to sell land, even if the wife had inherited it from her father, but the wife had to sign off on it. That's called her "dower" right (not to be confused with a dowry), and it was intended to provide some means of support for a woman whose husband had died.

  • "Property" transfers of slaves, usually in chancery or equity courts, also can be a source of information on female heirs.
  • Chat participants have had luck finding maiden names in children's birth, marriage and death records; and in male ancestors' wills. Several said that sons in their families received the mother's maiden name as a middle name.
  • One chatter reminded us not to assume that someone listed by initials in a record (such as M.A. Smith) is male.
I also wanted to share this post from the New York History Blog, about a New York law, in effect until March 20, 1860, that kept married women from having any legal control over money they earned.

PS: Here's where you can find out about our Fall 2014 Virtual Genealogy Conference, happening Sept. 19-21.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2014 3:31:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
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