Genealogy Tips: How to Find Female Ancestors in Newspapers

How do you find stories about your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and other female ancestors in the newspaper? Sometimes that can be easier said than done, but here are a few tips to help you search for those elusive female ancestors.

What Types of News Articles Feature Women?

While the digitization of newspapers provides us the luxury of finding newspaper articles we weren't specifically looking for, knowing what type of articles feature women can make it easier to focus your searches. It's hard to imagine all the different types of articles a mother could be mentioned in, but reading copies of your ancestor's local newspaper can be helpful. A few types of news articles to consider include the following.

Food & Recipe Newspaper Articles

What's the best thing your mom cooks? Do you have memories of grandma's homemade pies at Thanksgiving? Don't forget that she could have been featured in the pages of the food section of the newspaper for her culinary prowess. Recipe contests sponsored by the newspaper or food companies, requests for recipes, or sharing a favorite recipe were all occasions for women to be published in the local newspaper.

For example, this article from a 1951 Texas newspaper about a pear recipe contest includes the names and addresses of the female judges and the winners. Even three-year-old Peggy Womack, who accompanied her mother to judge the entries, is mentioned.


Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 9 March 1951, page 22

Genealogy Tip: Remember that women may be mentioned using their husband's name so don't forget to try searching for her as Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. J. A. Smith.

Women's Interest Pages

Women's Interest pages printed all types of articles about women's activities including causes they supported and clubs they were a member of. You can find mentions of events and articles that report on meetings at members' homes, complete with an address.

Such is the case on this Clubs page from a 1926 Washington newspaper, which includes mentions of the WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union), sororities, fraternal auxiliaries like Order of the Eastern Star, and Soroptimists. Awards women won, their names, addresses and even two photos can be found on this page.


Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 22 August 1926, page 60

Our female ancestors enjoyed club activities and membership in varied organizations. Identify membership organizations in the area your ancestor lived that she may have been a member of. Remember that she could have belonged to a group that believed in a cause she was passionate about (WCTU or League of Women Voters), was part of her church (Dorcas Society or Relief Society), or an auxiliary to an organization where her husband was a member (Women's Relief Corp, Order of the Eastern Star).

There's no doubt that being a mom and wife could get you in the paper as well. Whether it was for the birth of a baby, celebrating a wedding anniversary, attending a family reunion or even traveling with a child, your ancestress could be mentioned.

Great information about one family can be found in this report in a 1905 Idaho newspaper of the reunion attended in Texas by Mrs. J. F. Shellworth of Boise, Idaho. There are many names and much descendant information presented in this old newspaper article.


Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 August 1905, page 6

I have to admit my favorite part is the last paragraph that states:

"Of this large family there is nor has been no stain on their moral characters, nor have any of them been arraigned before a court of justice as far back as the family history records."


Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 August 1905, page 6

Gossip & Social Columns

Don't forget that gossip, social or "around town" articles provide opportunities for piecing together your female ancestor's life. These short mentions often tell of the everyday activities she participated in like going shopping, traveling or even becoming ill.

For example, in this section of a 1904 Michigan newspaper entitled "News of Michigan Towns," women are listed partaking in such activities as attending funerals, moving, attending club meetings, teaching, entertaining and in one instance passing away from a lengthy battle with consumption (TB):

"Auburn, May 4.–Miss Lillie Miller, who has been suffering for the last six months with consumption, passed away April 30. Burial took place Monday morning at Midland. Miss Miller was with her parents during most of her sickness and death."


Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 4 May 1904, page 3

It's All in the Name

I have discovered that often when I wasn't able to find something in a digitized newspaper it was because I wasn't searching my ancestor's name the way the newspaper printed it. It's always when I think the name can't possibly be printed as Miss Philibert or M. B. Philibert that I'm proven wrong.

Genealogy Tip: Create a list of variations of your ancestor's name and then add various spellings and misspellings to that list.

Keep a list of those name variations handy, and on that list have two parts. In the first part, write out all the variations of the name she could have used throughout her life. Such a list for one of my paternal great-grandmothers looks like this:

  • Mary Bell Chatham
  • Mary Chatham
  • M.B. Chatham
  • Miss Chatham
  • Mary Bell Philibert
  • Mary Philibert
  • Mrs. Oscar Philibert
  • Mrs. O. J. Philibert

Now if I add all the creative ways Chatham and/or Philibert can be spelled, my list starts to look like this:

  • Mary Bell Chatham
  • Mary Chatham
  • M.B. Chatham
  • Miss Chatham
  • Mary Bell Philibert
  • Mary Philibert
  • Mrs. Oscar Philibert
  • Mrs. O. J. Philibert
  • Philbert
  • Philabert
  • Filabert
  • Philburt
  • Phillabert

So you get the idea of how many variations you may amass. Not sure how a name could possibly be misspelled? Ask a first or second grader. They will sound out the name and base their guess on phonetics, something that others may have done when spelling your ancestor's name.

Before you give up on a genealogy search, always try another variation of your ancestor's name.

Keep Track of Your Family History Research

As you research, keep a timeline of your female ancestor's life so that you can determine what types of newspaper articles you might find during various times of her life, such as birth notices when she could be having children, or notices about her death.

Because GenealogyBank is constantly adding new newspapers, you will need to conduct your search at least every month to find new results.

It's no secret that I love the information that historical newspapers provide about our female ancestors. Finding mom (or grandma or great-grandma) is made easier when you know how to search. Honor your foremothers by locating stories about their lives in the newspaper. Good luck with your searches!

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