Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on March 27, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne

Take a look at your tree.  Men to the left, women to the right.right-left

Look some more; do you spend more time on your male branches than your female branches?

Women are harder to research. Maiden names can be tricky to find. And when you are bridging the 1880-1900 gap and the pre 1850 gap it gets worse. And those states that didn’t record marriages before 1900! What is a genealogist to do?

Men left more records. Women couldn’t vote before the 1920s (more or less) in the US. They couldn’t own property. They were often listed as Mrs. John Smith. They didn’t fight our wars (usually). They didn’t show up in the newspapers doing this or that, except maybe the society column.

Laura Cecil Donald Gillespie
Laura Cecil Donald Gillespie

I suspect the women in my tree were pretty interesting. The living ones that I know or knew sure are. Did they suddenly just become feisty, opinionated and strong-willed? Why do I doubt that?

A while back, Amy Johnson Crow, a regular contributor on our blog, introduced the 52 Ancestors Challenge. I can’t refuse a good challenge, so I decided to do it, but I’m working on the women in my tree. The men have not been neglected, but the women have been.  I have summarized on my blog page 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks!

My great grandmother Laura Cecile Donald Gillespie, lived from 1877-1964. And she was a tough cookie, loved and maybe a little feared by her family. And the photo of Granny and her dog has always been a favorite of mine.

My great great grandmother Sarah Sudie Hamrick Turner appears to have been her family’s muse. Her husband started and ran a variety of businesses. Her children were very successful and creative. My great aunt painted a picture of FDR that is supposed to be hanging in the White House, my grandfather was a radio announcer, and on and on. And doesn’t that tell us a lot about her? She must have allowed and encouraged creativity and innovation. Her accomplishments have escaped me so far, but I felt like I knew more about her just by examining the people who surrounded her.

So my challenge to you, as Women’s History Month winds down – go look at the women in your tree and start writing their stories. Not just as the wife of someone. But who were they? What did they live through and how did it effect their lives?

And tell us about them!  We want to know.

Happy Searching!



Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.


  1. Anne,
    I can’t agree with you more. Learning (and writing) about the women in the family is more challenging, but worth the effort to get to know them. I have also accepted Amy’s 52 Ancestors challenge, and have been attempting to cover the women as well as the men. In fact, my latest article is about my paternal great-great grandmother.
    I have enjoyed working on my first blog, and find that, in researching for an article, I end up digging up more information which gives me a much more complete picture.

  2. Lois Stone Wiley

    Each year I send a Christmas newsletter to 20+ cousins who are located throughout the country, and I share with them information on our family history. In December 2012, I wrote an article titled “The Grandmother We Never Knew” based on all of the info I’ve found over the years on our grandparents. It included how she immigrated to the US as a young woman, married the following year, raised 9 children, lost 1 of them in a fire, relocated to another state … the hardships she endured being widowed at a young age and trying to support all those children through the Great Depression. And lastly, becoming a US citizen. So many of my cousins wrote to thank me for sharing this info about our grandmother.

  3. James Wilkinson

    The author mentions ” Laura Cecile Donald Gillespie” in her article. Obviously, there are middle, maiden, and married names included, so how would you enter that as original information when creating a New Person on your tree?

    Would ‘Laura Cecile’ be the first and Middle, ‘Donald’ be the maiden name, and ‘Gillespie’ the married name? If so, what goes in what block?

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