The Background: Unanswered Questions
The quilt top isn't the only piece of family history lacking female ancestor information. My tree features female ancestors with no last name whose first names are taken from marriage records, census records, or personal correspondence. I find myself becoming endlessly annoyed that I must identify a woman's husband in order to identify records for his wife.
The Way Things Are
The Solution: Finding The Right Sources
So how can we solve this problem? I want to say that if we, the researcher, talks about our female ancestors more that this will solve the problem. Or, that the more they are researched they more they will appear. But it's really not that easy. Instead, here are some resources that might make finding a female ancestor easier:
To demonstrate a research technique, I've chosen Mary Isabel Huggans White as my case study.
1. Birth Records - This is a great resource. Birth records don't have to be the traditional birth certificate. Look for baptismal or christening records if a legal document isn't available. This record will often tell you who your female ancestor was, who her parents were, and where she was born! Hmm...I can't find a birth record for her right off hand. So, I'll keep looking and if I find more information I'll be able to request a birth record from the county archives.
3. Siblings - In keeping with the 1860 census record, in addition to Mary being listed there are also the following children: Orpha (born in Indiana), George (born in Illinois), and Lillian (born in Kentucky). This tells me that the Huggans family lived in Eddyville, Kentucky. But, now I know that if this is the right Mary Huggans I have the name of her siblings and the state that she was born in.
5. Family Records - This can be any source from personal letters or post cards, newspaper clippings, or even pictures labeled by someone in the "know." Note: when searching for a female ancestor in a family record or when searching newspaper archives, you may want to search for your male ancestors name. In many instances, a wife will be listed as "Mrs. John Smith" instead of "Jane Smith."
Social Security applications or passport applications can also count. In this case, I found a family photo album with several White family pictures in it. Included in the album was a colored picture of Mary Isabel Huggans White (see picture above). Great! So now I've got a face to go with the name - awesome find! And this is one more source that I can use in turning over this leaf of the family tree!
In counting newspaper clippings as a "Family Record", in addition to the identified picture Mary White, there were several clippings in The Chanute Tribune that detailed the activities of Mary White and her children. This particular clipping details Mary White's seventy-seventh birthday (note that here her name is Isabelle White when in other records it has been Belle White and Mary White - in addition to Mrs. James L. White).
This particular newspaper clipping was very informative. Mrs. J.M. Hanson is Mary White's daughter, Blanche, who is also listed in her father's obituary (see below). It's Blanche that throws a party for her mother's birthday. The clipping also lists a physical address for Mary White, so now I can look at see what part of town the White's lived in and compile a better understanding of the White family in Chanute, Kansas.
This article also provides information on an organization that Mary White belonged to - the Ladies of the G.A.R. This gives me another source that I can look into for more information about this female ancestor. I also know, now, that Mary White was musically inclined.
7. Obituaries - These can be a great resource. Typically, they will confirm the spouse of the deceased and many times they will confirm 1) where they lived, 2) their survivors - typically children and grandchildren, and 3) they provide biographical information about the deceased's life. Sometimes, these can be hard to find. I did not find an obituary for Mary Huggans White (my newspaper archive only has papers through 1923). But I did find her husband's obituary, he died in 1907.
This obituary came from newspapers.com - which is an awesome resource site and any genealogist should definitely consider investing in it (it's one of ancestry.com's sites too, for the record). This obituary made my week. Check it out!!! Ok, looking at the obituary we have another confirmation of the marriage date between James L. White and Mary Huggans - this identifies her middle name as being "Bell" instead of Isabel, but that's ok. We have the Bible record that we can go with also for her name (and it's pretty typical with older records that there will be misspellings or inconsistencies).
We know that they were married in Indiana and this obituary says that they lived in Kansas (which we can also confirm with census records). This obituary also lists the children, which we can double check with census records to get a more comprehensive mapping of the family. Obituaries are a great place to get a little biographical information.
8. Death Records - Sometimes, this is a Bible record. But death certificates are also a great way to verify a female ancestor's information. You can also request the death record from the county archive in which your ancestor died.
10. Headstones - Findagrave.com is one of the best websites for finding an ancestor's headstone! A headstone is another fantastic record (and sometimes it's the only physical leavings of an ancestor - the only picture you might ever find, as a researcher). And Mary Isabel Huggans White's headstone is listed! She is buried in Coyville, Kansas. You can see her memorial here.
Although finding your female ancestor may present research challenges, by considering an array of different records and search options you may be able to fill in some of the details missing in your family tree.