6 Tips for Finding Female Ancestors

By Gena Philibert-Ortega
1. Remember Her Fan Club
It’s important to research women in context with their community. That’s where the FAN club comes into play. Coined by Elizabeth Shown Mills, FAN stands for Friends, Associates and Neighbors. We can’t just research an individual in isolation; you have to consider others as you search for documents.
2. Research is more than just the Search button
Too often we use online websites and think research is simply entering a name, date, and place and then clicking on the Search button. This is not researching. Researching involves more than that. It includes contacting and searching libraries and archives, working with others, asking questions, and more. Real research should look more like the process involved in writing a college research paper and less like ordering something from an online store.
3. Keep a list of keywords
In order to do good library and archive research, you need keywords. Keywords are going to be of greater use than just searching on a person’s name. For your female ancestor’s keywords, consider words/phrases for where she lived, membership groups she belonged to, her husband’s occupation, and her religion. Search on these words to find documents from her community.
4. Look for female centered records
There are record sets out there that document women’s lives. Some of these include signature quilt databases, Mother’s Pensions, and Women’s Repatriations.
5. Keep in mind the era
The era she lived in is going to help determine available records. For example, though the 19th amendment (1920) gave women the vote nationwide, in some states women voted years, and even decades before that. That means those records may exist with your female ancestor’s name.
6. READ!!!
Genealogy is a pursuit that requires continuing education. One of the best pieces of advice is to always be reading something. Choose non-fiction books about the place your ancestor lived, or about women in her time period. Study the footnotes and the bibliography. These sources can be clues to help with your own research.