11 May 2013

Is it Easier to Research Women's Family History?

The survey underway on this blog on brickwall ancestors asks about gender. I'm surprised to see than marginally more people identify a man than a woman as their brickwall. The difference isn't that great, and many more identify both parents.
I'm surprised as I've frequently seen articles and heard presentations suggesting women are more challenging to research than men. The root of this idea is that as in most cultures a woman adopts her husband's name that information gets lost.
That researching women is much more difficult may well be a fallacy. In my own family history my most recent brickwall is male, and I can get back one more generation on my mother's, mother's etc line than my father's father's etc.
Could it be that women living longer than men means there is more chance for them to pass along their family history. Their offspring being older when the mother dies they are more likely to be interested in their family history than when their father dies. Oral family history, even if muddled in being passed down through the generations, is an invaluable genealogical resource.
It may also be that women are more inclined to keep scrapbooks, clippings and ephemera of significant family events that get handed down.
Maybe we should run a survey on who was your most valuable source for your family history. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Good idea!

Anonymous said...

I feel a lot of oral history gets perpetuated by a group of related women in the kitchen cleaning up after a meal at an extended-family gathering.
In my experience, stories and ancestry were passed on at venues of this type; it fascinated me as a little kid to be in the midst of kitchen gatherings and hear relatives discuss who was related to who, and who came from where, and why. Valuable information there!

Also I feel that since men are easier to research because of the stability of surname, more researchers have male brick walls. They are concentrating on their male ancestries rather than their females, whose birth surnames they may likely never discover. And therefore, they don't consider mentioning a female as their particular brick wall.

Anonymous said...

In my own family, the relatively early deaths of a paternal grandfather and a maternal great-grandfather provided the main barriers.

Alison (Vancouver) said...

I often find women easier to research just because they changed their name on marriage. Find the marriage info and you can be sure that you have the right Emily or Elizabeth!

M.C. Moran said...

I think Anonymous (#2) is onto something: men are easier to find because of the stability of their surnames, but there may be more brickwall males because of a tendency to focus on male ancestors.

That said, while I try to focus on both male and female ancestors, my brickwall is a male: a 2x-great-grandfather who emigrated from Ireland to Canada in the 1850s. I know nothing about his parents, possible siblings, or other collateral relations. I know much more about his wife, my 2x-great-grandmother, also an Ireland-to-Canada emigrant, because her parents and other relations also emigrated to Canada and settled in the same spot.

Andrew Simpson said...

I think where brickwalls tend to occur depends a lot on the cultural and historical context of your ancestors. With my ancestors in the South, it is often very difficult to track female ancestors. The records are often not very informative and do not always indicate a maiden name or parents of involved parties. However, with my French and French Canadian ancestors, the records are far more comprehensive and detailed. About the only time you hit a brickwall is when the paternity of a child is not given in a birth or baptismal record.

Another factor is probably how men and women relate to their family. Although this is purely an impression, I think that in general my female ancestors have tended to stay closer to extended family. I have many cases where a couple is surrounded by the wife's family, but I can find few or no relatives of the husband in the area. I could imagine that this is influenced by cultural norms and historical circumstances.