When I began researching my ancestors more than 22 years ago, I started with my maternal line. Upon reflection, that may not have been the best choice because women are often much more difficult to trace than their male counterparts. March is National Women's History Month, and the perfect time to research your female ancestors. Whether you're just beginning or have hit a brick wall in your search, here are a few tips to get you on track to tease out those maiden names and focus more on the women in your family tree.
1. Fill in the blanks. Choose a female line to focus on. If you’ve got a number of maiden name blanks (Anna __or Mary __) on your family tree, make it your mission to try to find those maiden names. Not sure where to begin? Need a refresher course? View the Chasing Women: Finding Your Female Ancestors webinar, or pick up a copy of the Finding Female Ancestors Legacy QuickGuide™(Print, or PDF).
2. Learn about the time period. To make sure you’re not overlooking important sources, you should always learn the federal, state, and local laws that influenced your female ancestors’ rights for voting, naturalization, and other matters. For example, you can learn more about Women’s Suffrage from theNational Archives, Archives Library Information Center (ALIC), or dig into special manuscript collections or Harvard University Library’s Open Collections Program “Women Working, 1800-1930” to research women’s occupations. Find even more special collections via the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC). Enjoy other educational opportunities by attending a women's study lecture (check with community organizations or libraries in your local area for special events), or self-study sessions on the Library of Congress website, or History.com.
3. Tell “her” story. Give voice to your female ancestors by telling their stories. The research I did on my maternal lines eventually became the foundation for my first book, Three Slovak Women, in which I pay tribute to my mother and grandmother.
If writing a book seems a bit too ambitious, try a smaller project. For example, you can write a series of profiles about different female ancestors and create a Blog where you can post them for others to read and enjoy.
4. Create a photo collage or remembrance. If writing is not your thing, then tell the stories through images or video. They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Truly nothing evokes emotion like a photograph—especially one of a favorite female ancestor. Create a simple photo collage that can also double as a photo timeline. First, if you haven’t done so already, scan some images of your favorite females. The Flip-Palmobile scanner can help you get the job done. Print the images (at home if you have a photo printer, or use a local printing service). To get your images looking just right, pick up a copy of Geoff Rasmussen’s Digital Imaging Essentials. Then, purchase an inexpensive segmented collage frame at your local retail store, and insert your printed photographs. One option is to create a traditional multi-generational theme, showing several generations of women from the same family tree (e.g. you, your mother, your grandmother, great-grandmother, etc.). Alternatively, you can get creative and use themes such as holidays (your female ancestors at Christmas, Easter, etc.), or a broader theme such as family gatherings (baptisms, weddings, vacations or other special events). Another great idea is to create a photo story book or scrapbook (services such as MyCanvas from Ancestry.com, Shutterfly, or Snapfish, allow you to create customizable books or other keepsakes of different styles and price ranges. For something even more special, you could create a video, using a service such as Animoto—an online service where you can quickly create a video using still images, music, and text (their free service limits you to 30 second videos; pricing plans are available for longer videos).
5. Preserve precious memories or memorabilia. If you’re fortunate to have a female ancestor’s diary, scrapbook, or other treasure, consider turning it into a digital preservation project. Susan Peterson, who writes the Long Lost Relatives blog, found an interesting was to preserve her great grandmother’s autograph book using SlideShare. I hope to do something similar with my mother’s autograph book. In addition, there are plenty of other projects you can do such as heritage crafts, quilts, and even recipe books. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get started on my list of projects to celebrate the fabulous females in my family.
Lisa A. Alzo is a freelance writer, instructor, and lecturer. She is a frequent presenter for the Legacy Family Tree Webinars series.
Copyright 2013-14, Lisa A. Alzo
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