By law and by custom, women's individual identities have been subsumed by
those of their husbands. For centuries women were not allowed to own real estate
in their own name, sign a deed, devise a will, or enter into contracts, and even
their citizenship and their position as head of household have been in doubt.
Finding women in traditional genealogical record sources, therefore, presents
the researcher with a unique challenge, for census records, wills, land records,
pension records--the conventional sources of genealogical identification--all
have to be viewed in a different perspective if we are to establish the
genealogical identity of our female ancestors.
Whether listed under their maiden names, married names, patronymic/matronymic
surnames or some other permutation, or hidden under such terms as
"Mrs.," "Mistress," "goodwife," "wife
of," or even "daughter of," it is clear that women are hard to
find. But while women may never be as easy to locate as their male counterparts,
Christina Schaefer here pioneers an approach to the problem that just might set
genealogy on its head! And her solution is simplicity itself: Look closely at
those areas where the female ancestor interacts with the government and the
legal system, she advises, where law, precedent, and even custom mandate the
unequivocal identification of all parties, male and female. According to this
thesis, the legal status of women at any point in time is the key to unraveling
the identity of the female ancestor, and therefore this work highlights those
laws, both federal and state, that indicate when a woman could own real estate
in her own name, devise a will, enter into contracts, and so on.
The first part of the book--a lengthy and informative introduction--deals
with the special ways women are dealt with in federal records such as
immigration records, passports, naturalization records, census enumerations,
land records, military records, and records dealing with minorities. All such
records are discussed with reference to their impact on women, as are a group of
miscellaneous, non-governmental records, including newspapers, cemetery records,
city directories, church records, and state laws covering common law marriages
and marriage and divorce registration.
The bulk of this absorbing new reference work, however, deals with the
individual states, showing how their laws, records, and resources can be used in
determining female identity. Each state section begins with a time line of
events, i.e. important dates in the state's history, following which is a
detailed listing of eight key categories of information: (1) Marriage and
Divorce (marriage and divorce laws and where to find marriage and divorce
records; (2) Property and Inheritance (women's legal status in a state as
reflected in statute law, code, and legislative acts); (3) Suffrage (information
as to when any voting rights were granted prior to the ratification of the 19th
Amendment in 1920); (4) Citizenship (dates when residents of an area became U.S.
citizens); (5) Census Information (special notes on searching federal, state,
and territorial enumerations); (6) Other (information on welfare, pensions, and
other laws affecting women); (7) Bibliography (books and articles relating to
women in the state, historical and biographical sources, and publications
regarding legal history and jurisprudence); and (8) Selected Resources for
Women's History (addresses of state archives, historical societies, and
libraries; women's studies programs, women's history programs, and more).
This engrossing new work is as amazing as it is informative: amazing because
it shows how women have been written out of genealogical history; informative
because it demonstrates how their identities can be recovered. This is a new and
promising path in genealogy, suggesting fruitful avenues of research and many
"Whether conducting research on individual women ancestors or
reconstructing the social fabric of a particular locale, researchers can benefit
from using The Hidden Half of the Family."--FEMINIST COLLECTIONS,
Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 27-28.
Paperback, 310 pp., (1999) Reprint 2009