A Good Woman Can Be Hard to Find…

When researching your family history, it can be very difficult to find information about women in the early 19th Century—finding genealogical resources that actually give women’s names and family details is challenging. It was common in the 19th Century for newspapers and government records to be brief and give only the basic information about a household in the census, or an entry in a birth register.From 1790 through 1840 the census only named one person from each household. This person was designated as the Head of the household. Most Americans—men and women alike—were simply not named in the early censuses.Birth and church registers often took the same approach as the census and only briefly recorded the facts of a birth.

A typical entry might be:
1812 July 28. A son, to Walter Hickenlooper.


What was the son’s or the mother’s name?
Because of these often-incomplete early records, genealogists have to dig deeper to find sources that give more information in order to fill in the missing details of our family trees. For the pre-1850 period newspapers are an import resource for that information, providing obituaries, birth and marriage notices, news reports, and other articles that provide stories and details about our ancestors’ lives often missing in government and church records.This Brundage obituary notice illustrates the point. It appeared in the
Hudson River Chronicle which was published in Sing Sing, New York, on 8 October 1839. The obituary appeared on page 3.


The 1820 Census records a John Brundage living in Bedford, New York, with his wife (unnamed) and family.

However, in the 1840 census neither husband nor wife were listed. Why? The census provides no answers—but this obituary notice does. It tells us that John has previously died and that his widow (Rachael Brundage) died on 26 September 1839 at age “about 44 years”—well before the 1840 census.

From this short obituary notice we have gained two important clues:

· Clue #1. Name: Rachael Brundage, a widow of John Brundage; her age; her date and place of death
· Clue #2. Name of husband: John Brundage, and the fact that he had predeceased her

In addition to the details about Rachael and John Brundage, the article has two other obituary notices. Look at the facts that we find about these women: Harriet Sutherland and Deborah Cornwell.

Harriet Sutherland
The notice tells us that Harriet Sutherland died on 25 September 1839 at “Middle Patent” (North Castle, New York), the widow of John Sutherland. It gives her age as “aged about 46 years.” Two very helpful clues here:

· Clue #1. Name: Harriet Sutherland, a widow of John Sutherland; her age; her date and place of death
· Clue #2. Name of husband: John Sutherland, and the fact that he had predeceased her
Deborah Cornwell
And in the third obituary notice we learn that “Miss Deborah Cornwell, daughter of the late Jonathan Cornwell” died 6 September 1839 in Henrietta, Monroe County, New York, at the “fiftieth year of her age” and that she was “formerly of New Castle (New York).”

Two valuable clues:

· Clue #1. Name: Deborah Cornwell, a daughter of Jonathan Cornwell; her age; her date and place of death; that she formerly lived in New Castle, New York
· Clue #2. Name of father: Jonathan Cornwell, and the fact that he had predeceased her.
It can be difficult to find a good woman in the early 19th Century—but newspapers are a terrific genealogical resource and GenealogyBank has more online newspapers than you will find anywhere else.

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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One thought on “A Good Woman Can Be Hard to Find…

  1. GenealogyBank is usually one of my first and most productive research stops! Newspapers are by far one of my favorite parts of research, since they yield so many interesting nuggets to further explore.

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A Good Woman Can be Hard to Find…

It can be very difficult to find women in the early 19th Century – finding sources that actually give their names and genealogical details. It was common in the 19th century for genealogical sources to be brief and give only the basic information about a household in the census – or an entry in a birth register.

The 1800 – 1840 census – only named one person in the entire family – the head of the household – while that could have been a single woman who never married or was widowed – it was most often the husband. Most American’s men and women were not named in the census.

Birth and church registers often record brief information – with entries like:

1812 July 28. A son, to Walter Hickenlooper.
What was the son’s or the mother’s name?

So researchers become experts in tracking down records that give more information – that fill in the missing details of our family trees.

Genealogists write me all the time with their success stories in finding their elusive ancestors using GenealogyBank.

GenealogyBank is particularly strong on pre-1850 newspapers – with over 1,300 titles.

GenealogyBank has over 3,700 newspapers – that range from 1690 to today ….. you can find the details about women in GenealogyBank – information that is just not in the census and often not found in other early 19th century sources. Newspapers you just won’t find on other sites.

I have been working on my Brundage line and documenting all of the grandparents; aunts and cousins in Westchester, New York and the family members that have spread across the country.

I found this Brundage obituary notice (Hudson River (NY) Chronicle 8 Oct 1839) that illustrates the point –


In the 1820 Census – John Brundage is living in Bedford, NY – with his wife (unnamed) and family. By the 1840 census – neither one of them was listed. Why?

This obituary article tells us that John has died and that his “widow” – Rachael Brundage died on 26 Sep 1839 at age “about 44 years” – well before the 1840 census. I now knew what had happened to them.
Clue #1 – Name: Rachael Brundage: a widow of John Brundage; her age; her date & place of death
Clue #2 – Name of husband: John Brundage – and that he had predeceased her

In addition to the details about Rachael & John Brundage – the article has two other obituaries.

Look at the facts that we find about these women: Harriet Sutherland and Deborah Cornwell.

Harriet Sutherland

The article tells us that Harriet Sutherland died on 25 Sep 1839 at “Middle Patent” – (North Castle, NY) – the widow of John Sutherland. It gives her age as “aged about 46 years”.

Clue #1 – Name: Harriet Sutherland: a widow of John Sutherland; her age; her date & place of death
Clue #2 – Name of husband: John Sutherland- and that he had predeceased her

And in the third obituary in this article we learn that “Miss Deborah Cornwell, daughter of the late Jonathan Cornwell” died 6 Sep 1839 in Henrietta, Monroe County, NY at the “fiftieth year of her age” and that she was “formerly of New Castle (NY).”

Clue #1 – Name: Deborah Cornwell: a daughter of Jonathan Cornwell; her age; her date & place of death; that she formerly lived in New Castle, NY.
Clue #2 – Name of father: Jonathan Cornwell- and that he had predeceased her

It can be difficult to find a good woman in the early 19th century – but newspapers are a terrific source and GenealogyBank has more of them than you will find anywere else.

Click here and search GenealogyBank right now and see what you will find.

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

Print Friendly

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