Friday, August 29, 2014

#FGS2014 Conference: Finding Female Ancestors

Anne Gillespie MitchellAt the 2014 annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Anne Gillespie Mitchell presented the session “How to Use Records to Reveal Your Female Ancestors’ Stories.” Mitchell is a senior product manager at

Mostly records were left by men about men, but there are places where you can find women. The key to understanding the lives of women is cluster research. Elizabeth Shown Mills calls it FAN research: Family, Associates, and Neighbors. It’s important to formulate a good research question and a research plan that will answer that question.

Start with basic information. Understand and map your female ancestor out in terms of time and place. Gather enough information about them to differentiate them from other people.

Mitchell walked us through a couple of case studies. In the first case she identified the parents of Georgia Eva Baxter Payne. She started with census and vital records. She created a time line. She consulted Google maps. Using known information, she estimated where and when particular events might have occurred and what records might exist. She relied upon a wide array of record types, including estate inventories, guardianship records, city directories, and obituaries. She found records for male siblings. She utilized ancillary information such as witnesses and informants. Using this information she was able to answer her research question. (For more information about this case study, see Mitchell’s web post, “…The Hunt for…Georgia Eva Baxter’s Parents,” at, posted 30 January 2014.)

Mitchell walked through the process of fleshing out the life of Sarah “Sudie” Hamrick. She looked at the records of Sarah’s husband and other family members. (For more information about this case study, on Mitchell’s blog, see “I Think My Great Grandmother was a Muse…Sarah Sudie Hamrick,” posted 29 January 2014.)

In closing, I have to say, this was one of the best presentations I have ever attended. Her case-study format was extremely effective. We learned how to “…reveal [our] female ancestors’ stories.” We weren’t told was extremely valuable in doing so, we saw it was so. I also appreciated that she mentioned searching microfilms. She demonstrated the genealogy proof standard without actually mentioning it. She presented a well crafted proof argument without calling it such. Thank you, Anne.

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