If it isn't hard enough trying to find a missing male ancestor try finding a missing female one. Sometimes referred to as the "invisible half" of the family, women who are lost in past generations come with a special set of difficulties.
During early American history, under a concept called coverture, a woman's separate legal status came to an end when she married. Typically a married woman could not own real property, though this could vary depending on the state she lived in. While single women kept property in their name, they didn't generally leave any descendants who would need to find them.
When a woman married she also changed her name, making it difficult to place her with parents and siblings. Married women, when they died, are usually buried under their married names. Understanding these problems helps us understand the solutions.
The good news is there are ways to find that elusive g-g-grandmother and her sisters and the following records may help.
1. The obvious first place to look is to find a marriage record, by looking under the name of the male ancestor. Marriage records, when found, can have a great deal of information. This is where you will find the bride's maiden name, and place of residence, and often the names of her parents.
2. Cemetery records may sometimes be the only place you find a female's name. These sometimes include her maiden name, but not always. While checking cemeteries look to see who is buried around her, as these are often relatives.
3. Land records are also a good place to find a woman's name. Because women had a 1/3 right to any property her husband owned, called a dower right, if any land was sold she had to give her consent to the sale through a separate interview. These interviews include her name. While only on occasion will her maiden name be mentioned, her first name will be, and often land purchases include the names of the husband and wife regardless of if they were selling or purchasing the property. Land was also handed down from fathers to daughters.
4. Wills not only name daughters, but if the will was probated after a woman's marriage it will give married name, and often state the place she was living, as well as the name of her husband.
5. Census records should be checked for every year that your missing female relative might appear. After her marriage it won't list her maiden name, but look closely at those living near by, and especially watch for naming patterns. Children were often named for their grandparents. Middle names for boys or girls could be the maiden name of their mother. Look carefully at women with the same name as your missing female who live in the same area.
6. Newspapers are a great source for researchers and fun to read besides. A marriage or obituary of a sibling may name your missing females. Early newspapers are great in that they tell what was going on in the community. These reports often include the visits of out of town family members, giving their names and places of residence.
7. Check also Internet sites to see if others are working on the same problem you are. Sites such as www.familysearch.org, http://worldconnect.rootsweb.com/ or www.ancestry.com, are good starting points, but remember being published on the internet doesn't mean the information is true or proven however, it can give you a starting point.
8. Your missing female relative might be "hiding" near other family. Finding where they went may be the clue you need. If a female moved or headed west in the nineteenth century she most likely didn't move entirely on her own. It is more likely she moved to be near a brother, uncle or other relative that moved on before or at the same time. This is one reason that a good approach to locating missing females is to complete the research of other family members in hopes that this may lead you to your missing female.
While women may be a bit more challenging to find, it is often possible, if you are persistent. One website that has many links and helps for researching women is found at http://www.cyndislist.com/female.htm#Foremothers.
You may e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have genealogy questions of a general nature.