Daughtered out

In a patronymic culture we put emphasis on surnames that are passed from son to grandson. This is mostly a matter of habit, because tracing a genealogy of descendants by their surname is usually much easier than tracing descendants through female lines where the family names keep changing every generation.

I’ve never been politically active – Women’s Lib came along a few years too late for me; I was already out of college and missed the movement, although I embraced “most” of the ideas – but lately I’ve been thinking more about how we all still, out of habit, approach genealogical research and publication mostly by surnames.

The most praise I have received for any of the Early New England Families Study project sketches has been for those where women were the principal subjects – e.g., Elizabeth (Fones) (Winthrop) (Feake) Hallett and Elizabeth (Hawkredd) (Coney) (Mellowes) Makepeace. These ladies get their own sketches because they had children by more than one husband, making their sketch different from either husband’s alone. Unfortunately, time (we have 33,000 sketches to do by male surname) and often lack of information (“unknown”) prevents us from giving full sketches to the wives of single husbands, but that doesn’t mean they are not worthy.

Also, while compiling the Babson genealogy of all Babson-named descendants, I ran into strident opposition from some of the younger Babson ladies, who were quite indignant that we were not tracing all descendants, including female lines.

Of course, readers of Vita Brevis know how fast the number of descendants increase when tracing children of daughters, granddaughters, etc. – just ask the Mayflower Society – but that argument did not hold a lot of water with our Babson ladies, even though we were including the children and grandchildren of Babson-born women within the family sketches of their fathers. Still this was not equal opportunity, as separate sketches allow for biographical text and full recognition of the ladies’ accomplishments, too. We settled on a compromise by adding sketches for all Babson-born ladies (with their children and grandchildren) in the eleventh and later generations – increasing a two-volume, 900-page work by 300 pages; our deadline of producing the book this year prevented doing any more.

I was most impressed by the Babson ladies’ complete conviction that their female ancestors should naturally receive equal treatment. Of course they should, and the old “saw” about it being too complicated, or too big a project or whatever, is something we should be putting behind us.

So, how are we to go about developing and encouraging a dedicated “matrilineal studies” branch in genealogy?  Look at Julie Helen Otto’s 1992 article, “Lydia and Her Daughters: A Boston Matrilineal Case Study,”[1] for example. What would happen if we wrote “upside down” genealogies beginning each sketch with the wife, rather than the husband? Take a family sketch you have written for the male head of household and rewrite for the female head. Does it change our understanding of that family?

I would love to read your ideas.


[1] NEHGS NEXUS (9: 25+).

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

97 thoughts on “Daughtered out

  1. I know a guy who took his wife’s maiden name when they were married because he was ashamed of his father’s past and wanted to disconnect from it. This should make for interesting problems if that information falls through the cracks.

    1. I know of a family where the male took his bride’s surname as her family had no male children to pass the name along. That will really confuse future genealogists.

  2. Thanks for this article, Alicia. I was delighted to find female family members in the 1800s who kept their maiden names as middle names, or named children with more than one surname–it helped me identify aunts and cousins whom I might have missed otherwise. One example is Emily Blanchard (my maiden name), who married Otis Shepard and named one daughter Emily Blanchard Shepard.

      1. It was tradition in 1969 when I was married in Utah the to drop your middle name and keep your maiden name as a middle name. Since I worked for the Federal Government, they required the middle name as well as the maiden name be used on official personnel papers. Thus, both names are still used and I am so glad my maiden name has stayed with me even through a second marriage.

  3. Hopefully the formal name change petition and marriage were recorded close enough in time so future generations will see it.

  4. I’m with you! I hate that expression. The negation of women makes genealogical research difficult. It is quite silly to believe that women have little place in a bloodline. Good essay!

    1. I too hate “daughtered out,” although I’ve never been active in the women’s movement. Even with the current study of DNA in relation to genealogy, which shows that the female line does lack one especially useful tool (Y-DNA) for connecting with ancestors, I still dislike the term.

  5. I love tracing matrilineal lines, both for fun and in mtDNA studies. My personal study has been tracing descendants of Phebe (Leete) Parkhurst (1585-1685) of Ipswich, who was my paternal grandfather’s matrilineal ancestor. The geographical spread of descendants in both southern and northern New England was considerably different than the patrilineal descendants. You also see surnames continue as first names sometimes a few generations afterwards that would be missed if only tracing the male lines.

    1. Have you published your research on Phebe (Leete) Parkhurst’s descendants? Even though I don’t have a matrilineal line from her (I’m from one of her sons) I would like very much to see what you have learned about her family.

    2. I am a 9th great-grandaughter of Phebe Leete and her husband George Parkhurst. Joseph, Joseph, Joseph, Tilly, Ebenezer Parkhurst, Louisa Parkhurst Davis , Martha Davis White, Pliny Earl White, Ethel White Hughes, Margaret Hughes Robben, (moi) Julie Robben Lineberry.
      I am a NSCDA member my initial ancestor line though leaves this line a Louisa Parkhust through her mother in law Susan/Suzannah Ellis Davis,
      Her mother was Phyla /Philene Boyden great great granddaughter of Jonathan Boyden 1651-1732 of Bodton and Medfield.
      I love chasing down the wives and daughters. In a great many of the instances – the guys “married up” and I find lines that go furter back and at times are more interesting folks!

    3. I, also, descend from Phebe Leete. I think there may be a typo in her death date above, as her husband George Parkhurst had remarried by Nov. 1644. See: TAG 52:113 and NEHGR 68:370.
      I descend in the matrilineal line from Phebe only 2 more generations before the line sons out. 🙂

  6. I had a great Grandmother, Chloe Cook, who turn my research upside down. She wrote that she had walked from IA to OR barefoot. As I followed her story back through several generations, she led me to so many strong women. At the very end, I was left with Elinor Billington, one of only 4 Mayflower women who survived the voyage and the year after.

  7. Yes! I love researching along female lines, and it was the same for my genealogist grandmother and great-grandmother. I wonder if some of our interest might be because women often become the caretakers of family heirlooms, photos, and artifacts? I’m the fourth generation of women to be researching our family and caring for our collected memorabilia.

    I love the idea of writing a matrilineal genealogy that remembers the ladies. Thank you.

  8. I like your idea, Alicia. I seem to focus on the ladies, myself, though of course much of the information tends to come from the males. Not because they are the only “doers”, but because they were the ones that the culture hinged itself on. But I look for the wives, sisters, and daughters and try to find information to illuminate them and to fill in what their lives might have been like and the roles they might have played. It is interesting to me that among European nations, England is almost the only one in which women have historically been expected to take her husband’s name, and this is true even now. My historian daughter suggests this might be due to Roman influence early in the development of non-tribal English culture. Regardless, it is a practice we need to begin setting aside, and a place to begin is to stop identifying women primarily by their relationships to males. Your thought of writing up our families by focusing on the women has real merit: it changes how we see the patterns in history, and even what is important. As I work toward certification, I want to present a strong linkage among and between the women. I saw the women in my family as the center of the family, and often of the community, and that led me to realize that history as we are taught is pretty lop-sided. Sometimes the kind of information that throws the lives of women into relief are the “non-official” documents: diaries, letters, recipes. I read probate records and often find a completely different dynamic than the town records contain.

    For the record, two of my daughters chose to use my surname. The other, after a divorce, went back to her father’s name– but did so partly because it is the same as my mother’s birth surname (it is a very common name). I had told my daughter that my mother had been disappointed when I took back my birth surname, and I realized that she actually had been affirmed by having her name continued. She had passed away by that time, but I like to think that wherever she is, it gave her a sense of continuance on this earth. I think the same of all the women who are pushed to the back of the stage by being identified primarily by their relationship to a husband or father. I think we have a chance to begin rectifying that by writing about women’s lives directly.

    1. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed is the change in records in Ireland as the English cultural norms took hold, especially in official documents. Whereas women were traditionally referred to by their own name, ‘Margaret Finn, legitimate child of George Finn and Anna Brown’ as opposed to the later ‘Mary Finn, Child of George and Anna Finn’. You see the same changes in the transition from Dutch norms to English norms in New Amsterdam/New York.

      1. Alicia, surnames are an identifier, no more. They place us in the network of larger society, differentiating one Alicia from other Alicias, this Annie from other Annies (ironic given how common my name is!). It once was a marker of property, which wives in most western European cultures (and of course many others) were considered under the law. That, thank goodness, is no longer the case in our country (though some people still act as if it were). But because of custom, we are likely to be stuck with following the surnames for some time to come. But the tendency for women to change names with marriage, or even necessarily to take their father’s surname is gradually changing. In addition, with modern record-keeping and the use of other kinds of identifiers, “mapping” relationships may become simpler than it was a few centuries ago, as it becomes easier to create maps by triangulating using those multiple identifiers. Our thrust to write women’s lives on their own terms is part of that trend, one I welcome. (Think of how many of us are stuck right now, period, with an ancestry that simply peters out after two or three centuries, for lack of reliable identifiers for either males or females?)

  9. Oddly, I grew up knowing more about my female ancestors than my male ancestors. My grandmothers and my mother were determined that the stories of their female ancestors would be passed down. Unfortunately, they didn’t leave me as much information about my male ancestors. In one line I could trace back five female generations with ease, but know only the very common names of their husbands. I hoe the future brings equality to the information passed down.

    1. John, I too knew more about my female ancestors than my male ones. I come from a family of very strong women, and even some of the men in the family say that women are the strong ones among us! I once saw the obituary of a great-aunt in the paper, an aunt I didn’t even know at the time existed, but I recognized the names in the obituary… except for the name of my great-grandfather. I knew all the women’s names, and I knew the LAST name of my great-grandfather, but I had to stop and think, hmm was that his first name? Because he was always in the background of the family stories! And, I should add, my family has always referred to our female ancestors by their birth names, even though as tradition dictated they took their husbands surnames. I also trace every line, female lines included. After all, the women are just as responsible for my existence as the males. The men did not have children on their own! Every name in my family tree is equally important, not just my father’s father’s name (which, coincidentally, was his mother’s last name, which I think is a delicious irony considering how I feel about this issue!)

  10. Great article! I have traced a female line back further than one male line, but I also know I have been very lucky in that their maiden names were easy to find. Many of my ladies also gave their maiden names (and their mothers’) as middle names to their children. I agree their stories should have equal weight, no matter how difficult the research becomes.

    1. Kathleen, There also are traditions, many in the South, of giving daughters their mother’s full names plus the father’s surnames. Very convenient.

  11. One of the difficulties of wives using the husband’s family name is that very often, they were buried with the name of the last husband she had. That fact makes it difficult to trace her death.

    1. Except perhaps in Scotland, where they bury women with their maiden names, at least included, from what I have found in my research. Wish they would do the same everywhere!

    2. Yes, indeed. Recently, while tracing Babson descendants I’ve found out after a lot of looking that the lady remarried, which was why I couldn’t find her!

  12. As soon as I finished researching my great-great grandmother’s (born in Cornwall, UK) patrilineal line, I started right in on her mother’s. And that is where I found that her first name, Ursula, went back about 5 generations – even though they all had different last names. Also, it grounded her mother’s family right in the same parishes with her father’s ancestors. I’ve tried to trace back every female ancestor I can – like Annie Stratton’s comment above I find the relationships between sisters, aunts, etc to be fascinating and often a clue to brick walls.

    1. While the female surname is often dropped, I too find the use of a generational first name interesting. My gg grandmother, Margaret Ward (1822-1890) named her only daughter after her husband’s second wife. However, every generation after that has used Margaret as either a first of second name. Olivia Hogoboom Bell (1858-1937), Margaret Mary Bell Taylor (1878-1967), Gladys Margaret Taylor Pruitt (1916-2012), Margaret Mae Pruitt Clark (1946- ). My daughter, Deborah Margaret, is childless but my niece named one of her twins, Madeleine Margaret. Also reoccurring through several generations is the name “Charlotte,” the name of Madeleine’s twin.

    2. In my family we have a female name that has passed down for 9 consecutive generations! We have a strong sense of our female ancestry! One, perhaps neglected, aspect of women’s accomplishments in the past was child bearing. In over 60 years of collecting family information, I have always noted how many children a woman had. It was demanding, life-threatening work, worthy of our deepest respect. Many of us wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for a woman having 8 or 10 children in her life time.

      1. As I was documenting a maternal line, It became so clear how hard this was. When women had a pattern to the births of the children, a break in the pattern often reflected a failed pregnancy. The saddest one I found was the woman whose obituary said she had twelve children only two of which survived. The last one was not even given a name during the short time on this earth.

  13. Wonderful article! Love the idea of matrilineal studies. The first article I published was about my matrilineal line.

      1. Alicia, wonderful idea. Such a bibliography could serve not only as inspiration, but as templates for the rest of us to follow as we develop our own matrilineal-based stories. Seeing the ways in which these studies were researched would be gold.

  14. Iceland is a genealogist’s dream– because each child’s “surname” is the father’s first name plus “son” or “dottir” (for a son or daughter respectively), each Icelandic family has a detailed genealogy that goes back tens of generations. Sorta avoids the problem of patronyms..

    1. Yes, everywhere were surnames were not adopted has an advantage, as well as those cultures that add the mother’s maiden name with the father’s. The old Welch used to have the lovely “ap” and “ferch” connectors for son and daughter of, before the English made them change — now I’m stuck trying to identify a “John Williams” who might be the son of a Mr. Williams or of a William something!

    2. Alicia,

      You can tell how wonderful this article is by the number of comments!

      The daughter of one of my half Norwegian first cousins married an Icelander, who traces his family back many more generations than we can. They were living in Reykjavik when their first child was born. There, couples have complete choice in surname for their children. They gave all of them her Scottish surname. This child was given the first name of his maternal grandfather, and a middle name from his Icelandic side. The second child, born in the US, got the first name of my Norwegian grandfather (her great grandfather), a middle name from, again, the Icelandic side. The third child, finally a daughter, born in Norway, has her half Norwegian grandmother’s name (my mother’s sister), her Norwegian great grandmother’s (my grandmother) and yet another Icelandic ancestor. It’s wonderful, on the rare occasions I see these children, to be able to call them by the beloved old names.

      1. Two sets of first names have come down in my lines, one beginning in New Netherland and one in New England. Neeltje Schermerhorn, b. 1725 in New Netherland, had a granddaughter by the same name, b. 1781 in Schenectady. Some of her nine children’s baptismal records show the mother’s name as Nellie, or Elinor, more as Neeltje. They were born between 1798 and 1821. Neeltje’s last child was Helen, another form of Elinor or Eleanor. Down the years I found multiple forms of the first name, corresponding as late as 2005 with a woman named Ella, whose mother was Nell. Ella told me that all of these versions were named after the original 1725 Neeltje.

        Another woman whose first name, always in the same form, appeared five times. In 1792, probably in New England, maybe even in New Hampshire, was born a woman named Eunice Andrews, to parents I haven’t traced yet. With Moses Jewett, she had a daughter named Eunice Jewett, in 1828 in Newburgh, Cuyahoga Co. OH. Some censuses show a middle name of Jane, but family Bibles leave that middle name out. Whether or not the family used “Jane” or not, she and N.S. Bastion had a daughter named Eunice Jewett Bastion in 1863 in Shelbyville, Moultrie Co. IL. In her case, Jewett was listed in family Bibles as her middle name, so we called the two generations Eunice Jewett Bastion sr. and Eunice Jewett Bastion jr. Eunice Jewett Bastion and John Alvin Waggoner had five children, none of whom was a Eunice. Skipping a generation, their daughter Bessie named one of her children Eunice. This Eunice was my father’s first cousin, and I remember her from family reunions.

  15. Great discussion. I’ve been working on one of these challenges. In this case the descendants of this woman whose maiden name was Thorpe, includes her illegitimate son, whose surname was changed 4 times between 1870-1892, and after a yDNA test of a descendant whose surname was Thorpe, resulted in a match to Lyon, which was not one of the previous 4 names!

    1. Carole, neat! Let us know if you figure it out. We aren’t too far from having pure DNA genealogies published, which will be a bit dull with all the numbers, but will undoubtedly bring surprises.

      1. Alicia, I have probably figured it out with the help of censuses and a land ownership map for New Albion, NY. There was a 19 year old single male named Herman Alvord Lyon living just a few miles down the road from Nancy Thorpe’s family. Of course that is just a likely scenario, but they were the only Lyons in the area. The first name this illegitimate boy had before he had a Thorpe surname, was Herkimer Ingraham, and there was an H.S. Ingraham living literally next door to the Thorpes in 1869. Since the yDNA test showed the Lyon surname, and not Ingraham, we can only guess that Mr. Ingraham was trying to protect Nancy by providing a name for this child. I originally thought he might be the father, since he moved to Wisconsin by 1870. But the yDNA tells us a different story. So many stories, so little time to tell them all – but we will all keep at it!

  16. I have been working on my family genealogy for 60 years. I have also been a dedicated feminist/activist for most of that time. The project of my life is to write a book covering the complete history of my family in America since 1623, INCLUDING all the women’s lines. So, I am right in the middle of completing this massive project right now. Many of the individual chapters begin with the matriarchal surname of a particular family , others with the male surname. I am using Ahnentafel numbering and it works great for this style. I feel as if I am liberating all the women out of the darkness of unseen history and, truthfully, some of their lives are so much more interesting than that of their husbands’. At the end of each chapter is a complete source and bibliography that will, I fervently hope, enable the women I have written about to stay in the light. I have much more to go yet (not to mention scanning hundreds of photos and documents, many of which are of women or are entries from women’s diaries or personal notes) but I am as fervent now as I was when I started. Someday these stories will have a permanent place on the shelves of research libraries and historical societies all across the U.S. What an accomplishment!

        1. Lynn, are you still working on the Kinister line? I have lost your contact info and wanted to connect!

          1. Hi Jason–
            That is not my line (kinister). Sorry I can’t help. Good luck!

  17. The Southern tradition of using a maiden name for a child’s first name is wonderful – although my father – whose first name was Moorman – wasn’t always happy about that. But to find a Pleasant Robertson, for example, is a gift. I’ve even found 19th C. New Yorkers who used family surnames for several of their children. SO much better than picking something random out of a book.

    1. Then you get my mother who named my brother John Winthrop Williams because he was born at Fort Banks in Winthrop, Mass., and Dad was away in the army, so that was the best she could come up with on her own. We have no Winthrop ancestry!

  18. What an interesting idea. The closest I’ve come is for Abigail (Varney) (Cooke) (Langton) Vinson, but I haven’t really framed it from her perspective — how might she have seen the events in her life, and what was going on around her. She was certainly an interesting person, and the context of her life was filled with what are now considered important historical events.

    The same goes for other favourite ancestors, all of whom happen to be female, and all of whom were survivors in a difficult world.

    1. Gayel, I keep coming back to your post, and each time it startles me a bit, because there was an Abigail Varney who was the first wife of one of my 2nd great grandfathers. Clearly your Abigail is a different woman, as mine stayed with her first and only husband and shared him with a much younger second wife (my 2nd great grandmother) after he converted to Mormonism in the mid-1850s. Abigail’s life cannot have been easy, and I ache for her. I wish I could learn more about her life, and how she experienced it. Alas, women were very secondary in that culture, and most “biographies” extoll their virtues as long-suffering and never-complaining. I know there is more to Abigail than that.

      1. Annie, thanks for pointing out a major OOPS! on my part; not Abigail, Rachel. Some days I think my mind goes chasing daisies.

        I agree — I can’t see these women as just long-suffering and never-complaining, either. Of my three favourite ancestors (all women), the most recent is my great-grandmother, and she is described in one record as “old and feeble” while still in her prime. I suspect this was a bit of legal “boiler plate” to keep the government happy. Years later, her grandson described her as “a formidable woman”. He probably had a better grasp of her personality.

        I think there might be biographies of some of the early Mormon pioneers, but I’m not sure where they are or if you get access to them. It would be nice to have a nuanced biography.

        1. Gayel, there are a number at the website lds.org, which is the Mormon website. The articles vary with a few written about women, but the average Mormon wife, either with or without pologmy, seldom is portrayed as anything but a satisfactory wife, supporting her husband.

  19. I guess I kind of started my researching looking for info on ALL ancestors all of the time because I didn’t know I was supposed to do otherwise :-). I applaud the idea of paying more attention to female lineage and trying to find their ancestors too. As someone else commented, I like that the Scots would use maternal maiden names as middle names for their children (they would sometimes also revert to their maiden names if the husband died!). And the Scottish naming pattern, while causing a lot of repetition of first names, can ultimately be helpful.

  20. I have made it a “purpose” to research the female lines in my family, which I have found to be far more interesting and rich than the male ones. My focus at present is my direct female line since I tested MT DNA. I have seven generations and am researching fot the eighth. Difficult, but not impossible.

    1. The direct female line is indeed hard to research, but take heart! I was able to confirm an iffy female line because I had a perfect mtDNA match with someone who had a well documented line back to a sister of my supposed ancestor.

      1. Joan, you lucky dog. Mine has so far only matched a few ladies who don’t know their line, either! It gets complicated about eight generations back with a grandmother who might or might not have been born in Paris, France, of English or American parents????

        1. My line, after an iffy connection in Ohio, went back to Quakers in New Jersey, who were much easier to trace. I subsequently found a little stronger evidence for the Ohio part of the line.

  21. As Janice mentioned, I’ve pretty much tried to do some research on both the matrilineal and patrilineal lines in my family—but maybe I’m missing something…would a true matrilineal line mean going back only through each generation on the woman’s side only—first myself as the daughter, and then to my mother, to my mother’s mother, to my mother’s mother’s mother…? As only that line corresponds with the mtDNA?

    1. Judy, there are different avenues. One would be tracing your “umbilical” or mtDNA line, but right now I’m talking more about tracing matrilineal descendants, or at least arranging genealogies by matrilineal lines, rather than surname lines. A really interesting one — perhaps after I’m retired — would be to publish the matrilineal descendants of Priscilla (Mullins) Alden!

  22. After taking the NEHGS on line course on how to write a Family genealogy, I put together one tracing my mother’s family back as far as I could. My cousins really had no idea about the family so it was done for a cousin’s reunion last summer. Because my mother knew not much and her parents rarely talked about their ancestors, I was starting from a very low point. By the time I finished, I did not have it all, but the southern part of the family is better known. In each family, I put in as much as I could find about each female. The fun part is that in one line I can go back female to female until I get to the male Revolutionary ancestor. The bonus was that a photo album I inherited made the names on the back of the pictures fit into the puzzle. I had known that all were probably relatives but had no clue how. I included those images in the book.

  23. Knowing what we do about women’s typical role in passing along family culture, and even about the greater certainty of maternal biological connections than paternal ones, it is surprising that the male-based genealogy ever became the standard. Children learn their mother’s language first, including their slang. They learn their mother’s songs. They hear their mother’s family stories. Frequently their mothers are the ones who take them to church. Correspondence with relatives is so often maintained by the women.

    Why did women ever relinquish family history narratives for men to write? Or even conform to the patrilineal standard while writing themselves?

    1. I think the patrilineal standards in genealogy reflected the legal fact that children “belonged” to their father. In the case of separation…or sometimes even abandonment by the father…the law still recognized the father’s claim on his heirs. I discovered a case from John Adams’s early legal career when he heard a case on Martha’s Vineyard which featured my ancestor as Justice of the Peace. There was talk of removing a wall of the house to extract a boy from his mother and her family when his father came to claim him!

    2. And remember that that is not necessarily always the case. We are not the only culture: this is our way, derived from the patrilineal determintation of who inherited the title (even when the title originated with the female line). Many cultures across the world retain a matrilineal form, and many, both in Europe and elsewhere, have an entirely different approach to naming, as several comments here have noted. It is likely a quirk of history that caused the patrilineal form to become so entrenched in western Europe, especially in England. A battle won that if lost might have led to a different way to doing things, perhaps. Or some other social crisis, such as the plague, may have shifted the power structure in unexpected ways. It would make an interesting study, and I would be surprised if there aren’t a number of theses or dissertations holed up in academic libraries somewhere, ignored because they are uncomfortable for some people.

      1. Much of it is based on the strong development of the church. It was incumbent on it to silence the voices, therefore power, of women and to make it legal that everything be passed down from father to son and father to son, etc. If the church “fathers” could have figured out a way to eliminate women completely from the childbirth thing, they would have done so. That didn’t work, so they took the power that early pagan societies honored the givers of life with and left women as baby carriers and “occasions of sin.” Read Matilda Joslyn Gage’s “Women, Church & State.

  24. After taking an mtDNA test, I decided to see how far back I could follow the line from my mother to her mother, her grandmother and so one. I was really pleased to discover that I could follow this matrilineal line back to my 11th great grandmother. (I’m blessed with having ancestors who came from England to New England in the 1600’s and stayed in New England.) When I started writing this genealogy, I realized that I had a very different mindset by making these women the focus of each generation as I followed them back in time.

    1. Sometimes it is the female line one can find, and not her husband’s line. I can track one early matrilineal ancestor of mine (Bethiah Hawes, dau. of Richard) back to England. But ironically, I can Not track her spouse Obadiah Seward or prove his parents. And another, (Persis Eames, dau. of Anthony Eames) also back to England, and the issue is the same – her spouse, a fairly famous Capt. Michael Pierce, whose parents are unknown.

  25. You’re in luck if female ancestors are French. Even if they commonly use their husband’s name, their ‘legal’ name is always their maiden name and is always found on deeds, court proceedings, children’s birth certificates, obits, etc.

  26. I really like your idea!

    I have one notable ancestor who lived nearly 100 years, with two wives, and a total of 17 children born over a 40 year period. The first wife came from a prominent Boston area, the marriage lasted nearly 14 years, with 7 children of which 6 reached adulthood. Three years after her death the man married again, a second cousin from a rural Rhode Island family, notable in their own right; with that marriage lasting 26 years, producing another 10 children. 4 passed away as infants or toddlers, and one 8 year old who was shot by the British after he answered with his real name during the Revolutionary War.

    During the war period the grandparents of the first set of children took in their grandchildren, ranging from their teens to 20’s. The second set of children went into hiding with their mother, with occasional visits to their own maternal grandparents. For about 15 years neither set of children had very much contact with their father. In 1773 his eldest child married a man who became very notable in his own right. This man ended up working closely with his father-in-law for the early war years.

    I can see the reasons to investigate further from the wive’s and children’s point of view. Although they are mentioned at times in records, they and their children lived quite different lives. In addition to having the information mentioned in their father’s recorded notes, they need to also have their own notes, as well as additional notes in a lot of cases. And their spouses need much more investigation in some cases.

    When I produce a journal type report I get a lot of information on the man, along with some of the data on his second wife and their children. If I do a narrative report, then I get a lot of information, but there are still cases left out that have only been reported in the data for the husband, and quite a bit less for their children. There is nothing for the first wife and her offspring or their children’s spouses in a journal report.

    I predict that I will be quite busy for the next few months entering new notes, producing reports, and then playing with everything in my word processor. Months? Probably years! And that is just one tiny part of my family!

  27. A corollary of the lives of some women is, how did they support themselves as head of household? I’ve found several women of the late 19th century listed as “widows” in the census when their husbands were very much alive. It’s not always clear how these women paid the bills, but what’s more interesting (and harder to find) is their uncredited careers.

    1. Ann, one of the widows in my family ran a boarding house in NYC. I am not sure how she purchased it, but having her listed as the head of house in the 1840 census confirmed that. I do know that adult children often took in the widows to help with child care and other household duties, especially if there were many children and not much money for hired help.

    2. Some of the women in my family, both widowed and married, have been tailors, mill operators, bookkeepers and business managers of family businesses, cooks and bakers, health-care providers (before they were called doctors). Women have always “worked”, just not given much credit for it.

  28. I read this post because I am interested in overcoming the difficulties of tracing female lines. But, I ended up discovering something about two of my female ancestors. I read your referenced paper about ‘That Winthrop Woman…’ and realized her last husband William Hallett was previously married to Susannah Booth Thorne my 10th g-gm, then later Rebecca Stillwell Bayliss a 9th g-gm. (A great granddaughter of Susannah married a grandson of Rebecca.) Amazing what you find in the most unexpected places!

  29. Carol, a first cousin of my mother’s, married Carlos, from Peru; they lived in Lima. I found the birth registrations of two of their children because Peruvians follow the Spanish custom of appending the wife’s father’s name to the husband’s name. I sent a query to the Peruvian Rootsweb elist. Imagine my surprise when I got a response–eleven years later! The problem is that her English is poor and my Spanish is non-existent. I did understand that Carol, the grandmother of the young woman who wrote to me, has died. A year later, I got a snail mail letter from Carlos. I understood even less of his writing. He asked for a “real” letter–i.e. not an email. The only person I know who speaks Spanish suggested I ask him to write in Spanish, and she’d find someone to translate it. I have many questions for him. One of the most important is that he mentions a visit he, his wife, and their children made to Seattle, where I live, not just to visit family I know, but to visit with Carol’s sister Irene, during the time I lived here (I moved away and then back). The problem is that to be best of my knowledge, this cousin of my mother’s was adopted as an only child. So who was Irene? And did Carol know she was adopted? I’m a bit apprehensive about mentioning that topic in case she didn’t know, or didn’t tell him. All the official data I can find indicates she was an only child, and the family was always a threesome at family reunions. Any advice on how to handle this situation? I’d love to open correspondence with this “lost” branch of my maternal family.


  30. I have found that some of my matrilineal lines are just so much more interesting and fun to follow, if only because my patrilineal line peters out in the mid 1700s. But my father’s mother’s lines are really interesting because she and her family were Friends, and the record-keeping of the Quakers is comparatively good. Now there is a faith that considers their women to be of value, for generations back. I can follow my Wigham line back to strong women ministers of the 1600s, who made their views known within the Quaker ministering/lecturing circuit of Northern England and left behind stories that have been passed down to their grateful descendents. It is a comfort to know that I came from strong women, as well as men.

  31. Thank you Alicia
    two of my mother’s male cousins made it very easy to trace back the ladies who came before my mother! In gathering the family history, they gave full names for each bride AND named both of her parents – going back right away for 10 generations . This aid took me from essex county Ontario to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island’s very early settlers. Consequently, I then try to do the same with the ladies on my father’s side. These take me to somewhere in Virginia, to Kentucky, and to Maryland.

    The stories are great to find.
    anna B

  32. My son and his partner have two children, a son who carries my son’s surname, and a new-born daughter they have given his partner’s surname to. These two children, although full siblings, will never share a surname. They live in Quebec, where wives must legally keep the surnames they were born with.

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