Worth The Effort


If our ancestors were only men then genealogy would be a piece of cake. We would stroll through mounds of documents stuffed with luscious details of wills filled with names of descendants: court records, land grants, military pensions bursting with mouth watering descriptions of where, whom, what and when. The books would open and our past would be as transparent as glass.

But women--out mothers and grandmothers--have been as much of our history as our grandfathers, causing kinks, frustrations and sometimes shutdowns of our ancestral search.  Although our grandmothers are as critical--sometimes more so--to our history, the veil over their legal rights and identity cast great difficulty in searching their history. At times, searching for records of a female ancestor feels like tracking an undercover agent for the government.

And an undercover agent may just be easier to find.

My files are filled with wills of grandfathers. Women rarely had wills and the first born son, not the wife, received the biggest payout in land. Our immigrant female ancestors never filed for naturalization. They became a citizen if their husband did--or not.

Our female ancestor's surnames changed when they married and remarried--which occurred often as husbands died early from wars and hard labor. Tracking a great great grandmother during a lifetime of 2-3 marriages can be arduous for a family historian.

Women rarely owned land or worked outside the home until the mid 20th century. Our grandmother's identity was neatly wrapped inside her husband's, often sealing it so tight she can not be found.

But as the men purchased land, signed legal documents, joined the work force; the women raised the children. They nurtured them, educated them and built them into the next generation, that in turn, created the next generation, that eventually became us.

Our grandmothers were the silent, undocumented ancestors that made us who we are. And as much as we struggle to discover them, let us not forget their importance in not only our genealogical history but in our present history.

Mother's Day is a perfect time to renew efforts at searching for our female ancestors. It is not easy and certainly not a piece of cake. But our grandmother's contributions in our history--who we are today--is so worth the effort.

Keep searching for answers,