Female Ancestors and Census Records

Female Ancestors and Census Records

Female Ancestors and Census Records

By: Nancy Massey

March is Women’s History Month.  What better time to honor your female ancestors than to search for their whereabouts and history!  One of my genealogical goals is to find all my female ancestors on all the census records during their lifetime.

Researching females on census records can be challenging primarily because their surnames change when they get married.  Another challenge is when your female ancestors married two or three times. You need to find the marriage records to know which surname she will be using on which census records.  Although challenging, census records can reveal interesting bits of information to help you go further in your research directing you in various paths to go.

So what information can be found on census records? It varies from year to year.  Our constitution mandates that a census be taken every 10 years. From 1790 to 1840, the only women listed as heads of households were widows and single women who were fortunate enough to own property.  Beginning in 1850, all women in the household were listed by name.  However, their relationship to the head of household was not clarified.  She could be the wife, the sister, the cousin, the mother, or the servant.  It was not until 1880, that her relationship to the head of household was specified.

The 1900 census was unique in that the birth month and year were listed.  In addition, women were asked how many pregnancies they had and how many children were still living. These same questions were asked of women in 1910.

The last census released to the public was the 1940 census.  The 1950 census will be released in April 2022.  If you would like to know more about census research, we are offering a class on census records and city directories on Saturday, April 7, 2018.  You may register for the class here. Imagine finding your female ancestors in city directories for the years in-between the census years!  You may be surprised to learn she worked for the railroad or she was stenographer one year and a homemaker the next.  She could be listed as a widow one year only to be married to someone else two or three years later.

If you are not available to attend the class, start your census and city directory research in our Ancestry Library Edition and Heritage Quest Online databases.  You need to come to the library to use Ancestry Library Edition.  However, your library card will give you remote access to those same census and city directory records through Heritage Quest Online.

So take time to honor your female ancestors and track them down through census and city directory records.  You will be glad you did!



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