Don’t forget our foremothers on Mother's Day weekend

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20 March 2017
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How can we make sure the female side of our family tree is well represented, in a world where male ancestors often took precedence on certificates and other records? Rachel Bellerby offers some thoughts…

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How can we make sure the female side of our family tree is well represented, in a world where male ancestors often took precedence on certificates and other records? Rachel Bellerby offers some thoughts…

Centuries ago, clues to the lives of our female ancestors were sometimes almost completely absent from the paper trail. Official documents such as marriage certificates name only the fathers of the bride and groom, leaving the respective mothers off the document entirely. And because most of our married female ancestors would have taken their husband’s name on marrying, our female ancestors can be trickier to track down; like it or not, much of our history was written by men and about men.

So, how can we find out what life was like for our female ancestors? Certainly, official paper records for tracing women’s lives can be tricky to find, but have you considered any of the following as a means of fleshing out the female side of your family tree?

  • Family recipes – have you inherited any recipe books (either handwritten or commercially published) which will show you the food your grandmother, great-grandmother etc cooked for the family?
  • Family traditions – think about any traditions which are unique to your family, perhaps a Christmas or birthday ritual. Chances are this will have been passed down via the female side of your family tree
  • Songs sung to babies – generations of mothers have soothed their crying babies with age-old lullabies
  • Family stories and anecdotes – can you remember any of the stories or humorous tales your mother or grandmother told you? Write these down so that future generations can enjoy them too

Each of the above can provide precious details about your foremothers, meaning that these women are not just names on our family tree. Take a look through old family photo albums and consider what life would have been like for the female ancestors pictured. Which king or queen was on the throne when they were born? What songs would they have been hearing at concerts or on the radio? What fashions would they and their friends have worn, or perhaps gazed at enviously as others passed by on the streets or were pictured in the newspapers.

And don’t forget about future generations. This Mother’s Day, make it your mission to preserve some of your own keepsakes, so that these precious snippets from the past are preserved on into the future. If your mother or grandmother is still alive, get together for a chat about their memories of family life over the decades, the personalities of their own mother and other female relatives; this is family history which would otherwise just fade into the mists of time.

For more ideas on tracing your ancestors, preserving and presenting your family’s story, and discovering the latest news and views from the family history community, read Family Tree magazine today.

(Postcard copyright Tuck DB Postcards)