Women’s History Month: Genealogy

Sepia-toned image of a family of seven, posed stiffly as if for church. Mother and father stand at each side with five daughters in between.

Family of Antoinette Pothier and family, Lawrence, Massachusetts. September 1911. Antoinette stands in the back row next to her father. She grew up to work at a factory in town. Photo: Lewis Wickes Hine.

This is a guest post by Candice Buchanan, a reference librarian in the Local History and Genealogy Section.

His and her tombstones for L. D. Hunnell and Mrs. L. D. Hunnell. A young bride without a parent to sign permission for her to marry. A former slave registering to vote, paying her poll tax and standing vigil through weather’s worst in order to vote on Election Day in 1920.

These stories and so many more may be found in the records of just one rural county in southwestern Pennsylvania. They are poignant examples that range from outrageous circumstances to everyday realities for women in American history. The Library can help you track down their long-lost stories.

Finding these women in genealogical records can be difficult because throughout much of our history, women have held a secondary status to men. The traditions and laws of their societies limited their access to education, employment, citizenship and public roles. In the records, it’s often difficult to even discover something as foundational as a woman’s name. Her identity is often intertwined with the men in her life. She is her father’s daughter. Her husband’s wife.

Today, that means they are not equally represented in the records. However, every ancestor deserves honest, accurate and exhaustive research. As with any ancestor who poses a challenge, we must think creatively and broaden our perspective.

Library specialists in the Local History and Genealogy Section collaborate with researchers to find relevant records and then help decipher clues that might lead to more discoveries. What was happening when and where she lived? What laws impacted her rights to marry, divorce, maintain custody of her children, vote, speak publicly, own property, own a business or receive an education? Was she an abolitionist? A suffragist? What responsibilities did she take on during war? How did her community support or treat her if she were orphaned, widowed, single or rebellious?

In this video presentation, we delve into the past with the women from our local history and family trees. Through a series of case studies, we understand the challenges involved in uncovering their stories.

You can also use our Ask a Librarian service to reach out to the Library’s experts to discuss your research project and consider what resources and collections the Library offers to grow your family tree and better understand the women in your history.

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The Great Buchanan Inheritance Hoax

Ninety years ago, a Texas grocer named Lorenzo D. Buchanan stepped forward with one of the great hoaxes of 20th-century American pop-culture life, a genealogical fabrication that continues to resonate today. The Great Buchanan Inheritance Hoax rocked American life from 1931-1936 with his false tale of an $85 million inheritance that was available to anyone who could prove a family connection.

Free to Use and Reuse: Genealogy

It’s time once again to dip into our Free to Use and Reuse sets of pictures, culled from the Library’s millions of copyright-free photographs, prints, maps and so on. This month, we’re featuring things that relate to ever-popular genealogy searches, as people look to uncover the secrets of their past by identifying their ancestors and the […]

My Job at the Library: Researching African-American Genealogy

Ahmed Johnson is a local history and genealogy reference librarian in the Library’s Main Reading Room and a specialist in African-American history. A bibliography he created, “African-American Family Histories and Related Works in the Library of Congress,” guides Library researchers seeking to understand their families’ stories to printed and digital sources at the Library. Here […]

Building Black History: Find Your Roots

This is a guest post by Bryonna Head, a public affairs assistant in the Communications Office. It is reprinted from the January–February issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine. The issue is available in its entirety online. The Library’s local history and genealogy resources make it easier for African-Americans to explore their family histories. […]

Write Your Family History – And Send it to the Library of Congress!

(The following is a guest post by James Sweany, head of Local History and Genealogy in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division.) The best way to preserve your family history is to write it down. By publishing your family history, you are able to capture and preserve the stories, pictures and genealogical data, making it […]

Start a Holiday Tradition – Trace Your Family Genealogy

The Library of Congress has one of the world’s premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications. The Local History and Genealogy Reading Room, located in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, is the hub for such research. More than 50,000 genealogies and 100,000 local histories comprise its collections. The Library’s royalty, nobility […]