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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters-Tracing Women  by Lisa Alzo, M.F.A.. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Learn About the Time Period

In addition to researching local sources, such as censuses, cemetery records, probates, newspapers, and vital records, you will need to read some history books in order to learn the context in which your ladies lived: their work, skills, duties, contacts, and responsibilities. It is also important to study specific local jurisdictions your ladies were subject to. Learn about those special authorities that apply to only to them. This may help you to discover records and sources with their locations—previously unknown to you or not yet consulted by other researchers.

Consider the era your ancestor lived in and check-out resources that explain what it would be like to live in that time period. This might direct you to other records that possibly mention a female ancestor. Some suggestions include:

  • Archives
  • Books
  • FamilySearch Center
  • Familiar Websites
  • Google Book Search
  • Manuscript Collections
  • Museums
  • Newspapers
  • Vital Records

You should utilize the power of Google . Google wants to provide online access to every book ever printed-those with expired copyrights or no copyright, those being published currently, and those still covered by copyright. Luckily for genealogists, many of these are old printed volumes of record extracts, local historical society proceedings, family and local histories, collections and anthologies of useful information, government published indexes and documents, etc.... Go to Google Books  to see what is currently available. If you are doing pre-1600 research, consult the webpage Some Notes on Medieval English Genealogy - Google Book-Hints and Tips.

But don’t just rely on Google or the Internet. Yes, there is much information out there online, but sometimes you may have to look in places other than the Internet (i.e. printed books, manuscripts, monographs, etc. that have not yet been digitized). It’s amazing the facts you can find about your ladies and their family background, including portraits, stories, and other personal information. Below are a few sources for tracking down both manuscript collections and digital collections.

  • PERiodical Source Index
    (Available through or Heritage Quest.)

Learn Naming Practices and Patterns

How the various family members and/or ethnic groups determined names for their children is helpful to know, especially when researching your female ancestors. Regional, cultural, and religious differences may account for name variations. For example, the practice of giving a child a middle name that was a mother’s maiden name (e.g. Evelyn Vallis Neville), naming a first born son named after the paternal grandfather, and so on. In some ethnic groups women keep their maiden names even in America (for example, the Dutch or Irish) and may be listed under a maiden name in newspaper obituaries or tombstone inscriptions. Look for Anglicized spellings and varied spellings due to ethnic religious differences—the Catholic spelling of “McDonald” versus the Protestant spelling of “McDoneil”, and suffixes added to feminize a name, such as the Slovak practice of adding –ova. For example, my great-grandmother’s surname Lesko would be Leskova. It is also important to be open to spelling variations in both names and places, taking into account transpositions of letters, phonemics, and poor handwriting that may alter a name.

Cultural Considerations

(Ethnicity, Rituals and Traditions)

Consider how a female immigrant’s culture and/or ethnicity influenced her personal choices or position in society. For example, while researching my grandmother’s life for my book, Three Slovak Women (Gateway Press), I discovered that her culture (Slovak) played an important role. Women were subservient to men. Two of my grandfather’s favorite sayings were, “I’m the Boss” and “You do what I say.”

My grandmother was the frequent target of my grandfather’s alcohol-induced outbursts. When I asked my mother about these occurrences, here is what she revealed:

Lisa: What did Grandma ever do about it? Did she ever stand up for herself or did she just take it?

Anna: She just took it. She just took it.

Lisa: Did she ever talk about it?

Anna: Yeah, she talked about it, but she just took it.

Lisa: She just accepted it?

Anna: She accepted it, but in those days there was no such thing as a divorce, you didn’t hear of a divorce; there may have been, but you didn’t hear, you just, you just took it, you had your children to raise, your family to raise and you just—I guess they figured that was their duty. It wasn’t like the women’s lib today.

By listening to my mother talk about my grandmother’s relationship with my grandfather, I gained a great insight into her character, personality and her incredible inner strength.

Researching the traditions and practices of your female ancestor’s ethnic group may help to explain events in her life and her reaction to situations. To learn more about the role ethnicity and cultural practices played in your family, check your local library for books on the time period during which your female ancestor lived. See websites such as:


Putting Your Female Ancestor in Historical Context with Timelines
A timeline helps to put your ancestors in the context of historical events and enables you to identify cause-and-effect situations. Begin the timeline with the woman’s birth and end it with her death. Write down everything that you do know about the woman including her husband’s and children’s names, and the names of any siblings. As you uncover each event (date, occasion, place), fill in the timeline. Include significant dates from world, U.S. and local history (for example, the Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, etc.) to get a sense of what was happening during each stage of the woman’s life. You can set your timeline up as a simple document in Microsoft Word, a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel, or you can use a commercial genealogical software program, such as Family Tree Maker or RootsMagic. Most of the genealogical software programs now have options, either built-in or add-ons, for generating timelines. Or you can create them with specialty software such as Genelines by Progeny. Genelines lets you see your ancestor’s lives in time. By bringing together elements of time, history and family relationships on visual timeline charts, Genelines can bring your family history to life, and even help you find new directions for your family research (it works with your genealogy software program).

But there are also other options available that you can find online for free or at very little cost.

Online Options

Fold3 - MemorialPages

Subscription site Fold3has a feature called Memorial Pages (dubbed “Facebook for the Deceased”). Registered users can create a free story page for an ancestor based on pages Fold3has already generated from an individual’s Social Security Death Index (SSDI) entry (“Profile Pages”) or WWII Enlistment Record (“Hero Pages”); or you can choose to build a page from scratch. When you build a page for your ancestor, a timeline is automatically generated based on the dates and information you’ve typed in. While MemorialPages are free, you will need a membership to attach pages containing premium content (census, naturalization, military data, etc.). The timeline feature is very useful, and creating a page is a nice way to honor/remember an ancestor.

This website offers a free web-based timeline generator. The website indicates that “is a direct outgrowth of genealogical software that is used to create the genealogy pages on one of the most comprehensive family genealogy sites on the net,” This “genealogy software creates extensive timeline detail for family members.” When creating your timeline on this website, if you want to print your timeline, make sure you select “Printable” just to the left of the Generate Timeline! button. At present, there is no facility for saving the timeline (I suggest copying and pasting it into a word processing document, printing/saving it to PDF if you have that option on your computer or doing a screen capture if you want to save or print it). Users can copy the source code of their timelines and use it on a webpage so long as they link each page where the timeline is used back to While on the website, you may wish to try out the “Peers and Contemporaries” feature to see who your ancestor’s peers and contemporaries were based on birth year. Enter a person’s name and birth year, and click “Look up Peers” and you’ll get a list of peers and near-peers from the website’s database. You can even make suggestions for notable persons to be added.


Preceden is a free Web 2.0 timeline visualization tool that lets you create simple, powerful timelines for just about any purpose. The application offers an easy-to-use interface, with simple, color-coded timelines with the ability to zoom in to seconds or out to billions of years. When you create a timeline it is private by default, designated as “Only Me”—meaning that only you can see it. By clicking the “change” link above the top right side of your timeline, you can change your options to either “Everyone”—a public timeline that anyone can view—or “Restricted”—this lets you control who can see the timeline. Simply specify a password and then give it to whoever you want to give access. When they go to your timeline page (you’ll also need to give them the address), they’ll be prompted for the password you gave them. This will let them see the timeline. Users should note that Preceden creates visual timelines only (i.e. meant to be viewed on a screen). If you want to save and print your timelines, you’ll need to use screen captures. Preceden is free and it is limited to five events per timeline unless you upgrade to a Preceden Pro for a one-time payment. You can view sample timelines created by others at Preceden Examples and Preceden Timelines.


Timeglider is a Web-based, interactive timeline software for creating and sharing history and project planning. An axis of time runs across the screen, around which you create, import and categorize events. No specialized software is required and you can and can your timeline on any computer via a web browser. You can “grab” the timeline and drag it left and right, and zoom in and out (just like you would do with Google or Yahoo maps) to view centuries at a time or just hours. Timeglider allows you to create event-spans so that you can see durations and how they overlap. Since it is web-based Timeglider makes it easy to share and collaborate on your research with family members and other researchers. It’s free to create an account at Timeglider.

Once you have your timeline, you can identify the time periods you need to search for specific records. A timeline also serves as a chronological profile for your female ancestors, and is good to review when you hit a brick wall because it may show you a gap in your research an offer a fresh look or perspective into the problem(s).


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters-Tracing Women offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 5 April 2014, at 12:52.
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