Census Research Genealogy Clips

More Tips on Female Ancestors: Finding Them Before 1850

Your female ancestors are notoriously difficult to find, because of name changes and being absorbed into her husband’s identity. This is particularly true of those ancestors who lived before 1850. There are numerous tips out there for finding them. Here are a couple more that you may not be aware of that can help you get to know these mysterious ancient female family members.

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There are all kinds of tips out there for finding female ancestors. Because they took their husbands’ last names when they got married, they are notoriously challenging to find in their original birth families. Their backgrounds often remain a mystery. Their lives after they get married are also often a mystery, aside from the fact of their marriage and the children they birthed. This is because they often became absorbed by their husband’s identity in the olden days, being referred to as “Mrs. Whatever the Husband’s First and Last Names Were.” You see it a lot in old records, where women are referred to as “Mrs. John C. Smith,” or something similar.

The good news is that there are a lot of ways to tease out your female ancestors’ identities, as well as the details of their lives outside of their marriages and children. In fact, you can never have too many tips on how to do this. Here are some more tips on finding the identities and lives of your female ancestors, particularly those who were born or lived before 1850, when their first names started being recorded in the US Federal Census.

Check the Letters List

Old newspapers often published a regular list of people who had letters waiting for them at the post office. They may have moved and just did not tell everyone they knew where they were going. This would mean their mail went to the post office at their old address. They may simply have not checked in at their local post office in a while, and have letters waiting for them.

You can check the letters lists in the old newspapers in every place you know your female ancestor lived, including before she was married. Some newspapers list the woman as a “Mrs.” with her husband’s first and last name, but some list their first name, and if she wasn’t married at the time, you will find the maiden name. You will also know that she knew people who lived far enough away to write to her, which is an interesting detail in her life.

Check for Runaway Wives

This is another place where old newspaper records can be of a huge benefit to you in finding out about your female ancestors and their lives. If a marriage was not a happy one, a woman of the old times did not always just grin and bear it, despite that being the socially acceptable thing to do. Occasionally, she would simply leave, and she didn’t always leave a forwarding address.

When this happened, her husband would usually take out an ad in a local newspaper stating that his wife had left his home and that he was announcing to everyone that he was no longer responsible for paying her debts. This information will let you know a female ancestor left her husband–maybe even a first or second husband you didn’t know she had. It will let you know her marriage wasn’t a good one to her and will let you know that you should search for her in other places and maybe under other names in your genealogy research.



Will founded Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has been assisting researchers for over 25 years to reunite them with their ancestors.