Find Your Female Ancestors This Women’s History Month

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena helps celebrate Women’s History Month by providing search tips to help you find your female ancestors in old newspapers.

One of the biggest roadblocks genealogists find when researching female ancestors is the lack of resources that document their lives. This is especially true of government records, which don’t always tell us what we want to know about our ancestresses’ lives. Fortunately, there is a good source for information about the women members of our family: old newspapers. The great thing about using historical newspapers is that they document the lives of common people and their everyday events, special occasions and activities—for women as well as men.

Where can you find your female ancestor in the newspaper? A complete discussion of all newspaper article types would be too lengthy for a blog post—but to start with let’s consider the following three categories (Death, Milestones & Activities) that you can find in the newspaper pages of GenealogyBank.

One caution before you start your female ancestor search. As you will notice from the following articles, it’s important to consider how you will search for your female ancestor’s name. Until very recently married women were most likely identified by their husband’s names. So searching for Mary Jane Smith might not yield any hits, but a search for Mrs. Aaron Smith or Mrs. A.P. Smith very well might. As you search, keep an Internet research log and note the variations of your ancestor’s name that you find and the date of the newspaper. GenealogyBank adds more newspapers to its online archive collections daily, so what you don’t find today might appear tomorrow or next week.

Female Ancestor Death Records in Newspapers

An obvious place to start researching any ancestor’s life is with their death. While we often equate death with obituaries, remember that other types of notices and articles about someone’s death may also exist in newspapers.

This list of death notices from a Philadelphia newspaper provides information about each individual’s death and funeral.

death notices, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 March 1904

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 March 1904, page 7

Throughout this list many women are identified—such as Anne C. Winkworth, wife of the late Thomas A. Winkworth, who died in her 80th year.

death notice for Anne C. Winkworth, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 8 March 1904

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 8 March 1904, page 7

Major Life Milestones in Newspapers

Milestone wedding anniversaries are something to celebrate and newspapers have done that with photos and articles about the wedding anniversary couple. If your ancestors celebrated 50 or more years of marriage, you may want to see if their golden anniversary was documented in the newspaper.

This old wedding anniversary article from a Portland newspaper doesn’t give us too many clues about Mrs. Austin H. Gates—in fact, her birth name is never printed. However, we are provided with her photo, as well as her descendants’ names.

Mr. and Mrs. Austin H. Gates Celebrate 50th Wedding Anniversary, Oregonian newspaper article 20 March 1908

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 20 March 1908, page 6

Do you have an ancestor who lived to be the ripe old age of 100 years or beyond? That significant milestone is often documented in the newspaper, as in this old Philadelphia newspaper article reporting that Mrs. Eliza Stranahan survived an entire century—from 1800-1900!

Mrs. Eliza Stranahan Today Celebrates Her 100th Birthday Anniversary at Sharon, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 5 September 1900

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 5 September 1900, page 4

As you create a timeline of your female ancestor’s life, note any milestones she may have achieved and look for these in the newspaper.

Women’s Activities Are Recorded in Newspapers

What organizations, activities or events was your female ancestor a part of? Her name could appear in articles associated with those activities.

Women were members of all types of groups. Consider church groups, auxiliaries to male membership organizations, benevolent groups, and social causes as you search for records of your ancestor.

In this small article about the Women’s Relief Corps in Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania, an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, the occasion of their elections provides us with the names of members.

Officers Elected by Women's Relief Corrps, Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader newspaper article 3 December 1912

Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader (Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania), 3 December 1912, page 13

Women and their church activities were often published in the local newspaper. In this article highlighting the fundraising efforts of female church members, even a few street addresses are included. It’s interesting to note that even though the women failed in their three-day fast (most suffered from thirst and hunger after a dozen hours), the article was still published.

women Fast to Raise Money to Repair Their Church, Omaha World Herald newspaper article 19 November 1899

Omaha World Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 19 November 1899, page 26

The great thing about old newspapers is that your ancestor didn’t have to be wealthy or famous to be mentioned. Newspapers document communities, and it is in that documentation that you just might find mentions of your female ancestors.

Enjoy the Women’s History Month celebrations and good luck with your own female ancestry research!

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Written by Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega

Gena Philibert-Ortega holds a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master’s degree in Religion. Presenting on various subjects involving genealogy, women’s studies and social history, Gena has spoken to groups throughout the United States and virtually to audiences worldwide.

Gena is the author of hundreds of articles published in genealogy newsletters and magazines including Internet Genealogy, Family Chronicle, GenWeekly, FGS Forum, APG Quarterly and the WorldVitalRecords newsletter. She is the author of the books, Putting the Pieces Together, Cemeteries of the Eastern Sierra (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and From the Family Kitchen (F + W Media, 2012).

Gena is the editor of the Utah Genealogical Association’s journal Crossroads. An instructor for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Gena has written courses about social media and Google. She serves as Vice-President for the So. California Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists, board member of the Utah Genealogical Association and is a Director for the California State Genealogical Alliance.

Her current research interests include social history, community, social history, community cookbooks, signature quilts and researching women’s lives.

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5 thoughts on “Find Your Female Ancestors This Women’s History Month

  1. Hello! I’ve been looking for a long lost female cousin,who was taken back to Germany by her mother when she was very young,we have next to zero info. on her family there. What resources do you recommend? We’ve gone as far as the American consolate in Germany,no luck. I appreciate any help,thanks! Joe

    • Joe,

      Have you tried searching German telephone directories? The website Infobel , has international directories, including Germany.

      You will also want to utilize social network websites to post information about her and your contact information. Twitter, for example, allows you to reach people outside your normal sphere of influence.

      Consider starting a blog where you can post family history information and your search for finding this cousin. If her name appears in the blog, if she or someone who knows her were to search on her name she would find your posting.

      You can also search for her via the German version of Google . Don’t read German? No problem, Google can help you translate web pages into English.

      Good luck in your search!

      Gena

  2. Dear Ms. Philbert-Ortega:

    I am searching for one of my grandmothers’ children: – a daughter
    her maiden name was a LOUISE SCATLIFFE.
    she arrived at Ellis Islands, New York on or about 16 September 1922,
    then the records further indicate that she may have settled, in ALLEGHENY County, Penna., ?? – she arrived from the “British West Indies”…Vessel origin Was either St.Thomas, USVI and/or Puerto Rico
    I have been unable to find any more information, about her; probably because she may have gotten married – and I do not know her married
    name, or she have moved on from Pa., – can you help ???- I can be reached at the above indicated email address – Thanks in advance,
    Clifton O. Gumbs

    • One thing to remember with women is that we sometimes have to research the men in her life to find more information about her. In this case, you aren’t sure if she married . Have you researched her father? Did she have brothers? Did she have other family members that came to the states? Researching additional family members can help.

      Have you searched the Family History Library Catalog for records from Allegheny County for the time she should have been there?

      If she was living in the United States she should be in the 1930 US Census. You may want to search the census by her first name and then by her birth place or the birth place of her mother or father. If she had an occupation, listed on the passenger list you found, try using that as well.

      Also, try searching a genealogy specific search engine such as Mocavo or Live Roots.

      The other thing I would suggest is to conduct searches through Google and Google Books. You can even set up a Google Alert so that you will be emailed anytime her name is added to a website that Google searches.

      Newspapers are so important for finding women. On the Internet information is always being added. For that reason, do a regular search on GenealogyBank to search for recently digitized newspapers . Make sure to search on her name as well as other family members.

      Good luck in your search!

      Gena

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