on February 23, 2001
The Hidden Half of the Family: A Sourcebook for Women'sGenealogy by Christina K. Schaefer
Meeting with new genealogyresearchers is always fun. Almost to a person, beginners think only oftracing their paternal line, completely forgetting that the women inthe family played an all important role in one's heritage. Perhapsthese "newbies" just give up because of the seeminglydifficult task of tracing women, whose names change at marriage. Moreexperienced researchers encounter laws of the land giving a husbandhis wife's inheritance from her family, further compounding theissue.
Christina K. Schaefer's The Hidden Half of the Family cutsthrough the confusion providing well-organized listings by state ofthe resources one should consult when researching the female side ofthe pedigree chart. For instance, under Vermont, pp247-249 one findsthe following information:
-- Important dates in Vermont statehistory
-- Marriage & Divorce
-- 1779 first divorce lawenacted
-- 1798 a divorce may be granted on the grounds ofimpotence, adultery, intolerable cruelty, or three years' willfuldesertion or absence with presumption of death.
-- 1902 marriagecertificates must be recorded by the town clerk. 1906 town paupers arenot allowed to marry without consent of the selectman or overseer ofthe poor.
- Where to find Marriage & Divorce Records"Marriages have been recorded in the earliest town records sinceabout 1760. State registration began in 1896. The town records havebeen filmed and are available through the FHL (Family History Library)and at the Vermont Public Records Division in Montpelier. There is aseries of indexes at the Division: Statewide index vital records,1760-1870 (film 0027455 ff) Statewide index to vital records,1871-1908 (film 0540051 ff) Statewide index to vital records 1909-1941(not at the FHL) Statewide index to vital records, 1942-1952 (film1953789 ff) Other Vermont topics include: property & inheritancelaws, suffrage, citizenship, census, bibliography, selected resourcesfor women's history."
The last category has five listingsincluding: Women's Studies Program Middlebury College Monroe HallMiddlebury, VT 05753
The glossary includes definitions forconsanguinity, allotments, coverture, entail or fee-tail, feme covert,partible inheritance and other terms unfamiliar to all but experiencedgenealogy researchers. An eighteen page bibliography provides thereader ample alternatives when tackling the challenge of tracingfemale ancestry.
From the publisher: "By law and by customwomen's individual identities have been subsumed by those of theirhusbands. For centuries women were not allowed to own real estate intheir own name, sign a deed, devise a will, or enter into contracts,and even their citizenship and their position as head of householdhave been in doubt. Finding women in traditional genealogical recordsources, therefore, presents the researcher with a unique challenge,for census records, wills, land records, pension records--theconventional sources of genealogical identification--all have to beviewed in a different perspective if we are to establish thegenealogical identity of our female ancestors.Whether listed undertheir maiden names, married names, patronymic/matronymic surnames orsome other permutation, or hidden under such terms as"Mrs.," "Mistress," "goodwife,""wife of," or even "daughter of," it is clear thatwomen are hard to find. But while women may never be as easy to locateas their male counterparts, Christina Schaefer here pioneers anapproach to the problem that just might set genealogy on its head! Andher solution is simplicity itself: Look closely at those areas wherethe female ancestor interacts with the government and the legalsystem, she advises, where law, precedent, and even custom mandate theunequivocal identification of all parties, male and female. Accordingto this thesis, the legal status of women at any point in time is thekey to unraveling the identity of the female ancestor, and thereforethis work highlights those laws, both federal and state, that indicatewhen a woman could own real estate in her own name, devise a will,enter into contracts, and so on."
I highly recommend The HiddenHalf of the Family, and believe it is destined to become one of the"standard works" of genealogy! (A comment I wouldn't makelightly!)
on April 4, 2004
In The Hidden Half Of The Family, genealogist Christina Schaefer directly addresses the very real problem of how to find genealogical records of women, whose names are often subsumed by that of their husbands and whose rights to sign a deed, devise a will, enter into contracts, and other legal acts requiring full citizenship were heavily restricted until very recently. Schaefer deftly presents a pioneering approach to the gender dilemma for genealogical researchers that focuses upon close study of where female ancestors interact with the government and the legal system in which law insists upon the absolute identification of all parties, male and female. Such a technique depends upon knowing the legal status of women in any specific point of time. Therefore The Hidden Half Of The Family features an extensive state-by-state listing of the dates of laws passed with regard to suffrage, property and inheritance, citizenship, census information, marriage and divorce, and much more. A "must-have" resource for anyone struggling with the different of tracking female genealogy, The Hidden Half Of The Family is a critically important, core addition to personal and professional Genealogical Research reference collections.