Our family recently had the opportunity to take two separate four-generation pictures. One was of my mother, me, my daughter, and her daughter. The other was of my mother, my sister, and her daughter and granddaughter. This got me thinking about the women in our ancestry and more about who they were. A common thread was the strength they displayed.
I sent my daughter an e-mail telling her about some of these strong women in her ancestry and about a few scoundrels too. The next step was to pick a woman in my family to be my female hero. I had a difficult time choosing as there were several; some were not direct ancestors. I never did narrow it down to one, and so I began to think of ways I could honor them.
In My Background
I jotted some notes on them. Several lived well into their 90s, some were widowed at a young age, one taught handicapped children, and another grew up without a mother. One was a poet, and three were successful businesswomen in the early twentieth century. Almost all were very poor and families came before education. Many lost several children at birth or shortly after. One disgraced her family, one was abandoned by her husband, and another raised her own children and her husbandâ€™s by his first wife who was deceased. Still others need to have their stories discovered.
Honor Your Women
You probably have similar stories in your family history. Have you honored the women in your family? Perhaps you have written the stories of the females in your family or have thought about it? Did they have siblings, an education, servants, or were they slaves? Did they travel alone from one country to another, raise children on their own, or take in a sisterâ€™s orphaned children? Did they travel westward in a wagon or on foot, attend college in a time when it was rare for a female to do so, write poetry, give up marriage to care for elderly parents, or work for some social cause? Did she live without indoor plumbing or electricity? Did a widow work two jobs to ensure a college education for her children?
If you havenâ€™t written about them, why not work on it this Womenâ€™s History Month? Maybe you could transcribe old letters or a diary from a woman in your family as a gift for the family, both males and females. Talk to the editor of your genealogical societyâ€™s publication and those in charge of the societyâ€™s website about planning for next March. Articles that would be appropriate range from womenâ€™s history collections in your county or state, to the history of various society membersâ€™ female ancestors to area womenâ€™s colleges and universities and their records. Other topics to consider would be the background of area womenâ€™s organizations, the first order of nuns to set up a hospital, early female missionaries, the first female librarian, schoolteachers, or maybe about the first woman mayor or city councilpersons.
We now have so many online indexes that assist in searching the history of women. When Ancestry.com produced every-name indexes to the U.S. census records, it became easier to locate some women and daughters. No longer are womenâ€™s contributions to history shoved to the side.
A Wide Range of Topics
Thinking about all this spurred me to some online forays into womenâ€™s history. There are numerous archives, historical societies, and university libraries with specific womenâ€™s history collections. Such collections have become prominent in recent decades. Women-related history topics abound at genealogical, historical, and archival conferences and in publications.
Whether your interest is personal or social, or of families, communities, religions, education, witch trials, the military, suffrage, missions, oral history, womenâ€™s organizations, ethnic groups, cooking, or other aspects of womenâ€™s history, you wonâ€™t be disappointed. You may not find something that specifically mentions your female ancestors but you may find diaries, letters, and other reminiscences of their relatives, friends, neighbors, and other contemporaries that will tell you more about the place and time in which your ancestor lived.
The following are just a few websites that help show the breadth of the available material. I canâ€™t list all the wonderful sites, so you will need to venture out on your own for more.
Clements Library, University of Michigan
Women in History Guide to Manuscripts
Duke University, Civil War Women Sources on the Internet
H-net [History Net], Womenâ€™s archival and manuscript collections
Library of Congress, American Women, part of the American Memory Project
The National Womenâ€™s History Project
Pathfinder for Womenâ€™s History,
U.S. National Archives, bibliographic resources
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Special Collections
Womenâ€™s History Month Australia
Womenâ€™s History Resources
(An extensive number of links to websites related to the history of women)
Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, of St. Paul, Minnesota, is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on the road. She coordinates the intermediate course, American Records and Research, at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including â€œAncestryâ€ Magazine. Comments will reach her at PSWResearch@comcast.net but she regrets that she is unable to answer individual genealogical research inquiries due to the volume of requests. From time to time, comments from readers may be quoted in her writings; your name may not be used, but your place of residence could be listed (i.e., Shreveport, LA).
Upcoming Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren
31 March 2007, Sacramento, California
Root Cellar-Sacramento Genealogical Society, Annual Spring Seminar
13-14 April 2007, Columbus, Ohio
Ohio Genealogical Society 2007 Conference
21 April 2007, Moline, Illinois
33rd Annual Quad Cities Genealogical Conference