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Resources for researching your ancestors and your family history

Researching Female Ancestors

Researching your female ancestors can be a difficult task. The largely standard practice of changing their surnames after marriage can make women hard to track, and many historical records focus on men with women being listed only under their husbands’ names.

This section will offer some guidance for researching female ancestors including information about sources that you may not have thought to check.

  • Ask anyone still living who might remember or have information about the woman you’re researching
    • Someone who knew her (relative, friend, neighbor, etc...) may know more about her
    • Someone who has a collection of records or other information about her family may be able to share it
  • Search for every possible name variation
    • Women may be listed under their maiden name, married name, a nickname, initials, their husband's name, or their name might be misspelled
    • If she was ever married, search for her married and maiden names
    • If she was married multiple times, try all of her married names
  • Pay attention to details in a record aside from a name
    • If other information in a record is correct (i.e. birth date & birth place, address, spouse's name,) even if the name is wrong it may be the right record anyway
  • Search for her husband and anyone else she might have been living with
    • She may have lived with another relative, (i.e. sibling, aunt/uncle, adult child, cousin, in-laws, etc...)
  • Search for any known male associates
    • She may be listed as a witness or other participant in records involving her neighbors, friends, godparents/godchildren, or others
  • Look at many different types of records
    • See next tab for more information


  • Published local histories
    • Histories of cities/towns, counties, and states
    • May contain information about a woman's maiden name, parents, birth place, or descendants
    • You can search for published local histories in the BPL's online catalog
  • Directories and member lists
    • City directories, lists of residents, professional & trade directories, and society directories
    • May contain information about a woman's education, occupation, birth place, professional awards, and club memberships
    • Learn more about how to access these materials in the Directories section of this guide
  • Institutional Records
    • Eugenics Record Office records, insane asylum records, settlement house records, and tuberculosis sanitarium records
    • May contain information about a woman's marital status, maiden name, children, birth place & birth date, place of death & date of death, medical history, education, occupation, physical description, and religious affiliation
    • See the Related Archives tab in the box below for more information
  • Newspapers
    • Notices repudiating wives’ debts, unclaimed mail notices, and women’s sections
    • May contain information about a woman's maiden name, husband's name, marital status, address, and social life
    • Learn more about how to access newspapers at the Newspapers @ the BPL research guide
  • Women's groups

Resources at the BPL and Beyond

The guides listed below contain information about accessing various kinds of records that may have information about female ancestors.

The databases listed below may contain newspapers and other records with information about female ancestors.