Book Review: Tracing Your Female Ancestors – A Guide for Family Historians by Edele Emm

Tracing Your Female Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Edèle Emm.  Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK £14.99. US Distributor: Casemate Publishers 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. $29.95. 2019. 220 pp. Illustrations, Index Softcover.

This book primarily focuses on the period from 1815, when Britain was plunged into economic crisis following the end of the Napoleonic Wars, to 1914, the start of the First World War, an event which irrevocably changed everyone’s lives, especially for women. It succeeds in enhancing our understanding of the daily life and the battles fought by our female ancestors and recommends the genealogical sources for more information that more deeply inform women’s lives and lifestyles. 

The book examines different aspects of a woman’s life in detail, explaining the limitations placed on her by the men around her, or by society in general. The reader can hardly fail to see also how much things changed for women during this tumultuous century. Examining the sections in chapter one on birth, marriage and death, for example, show how broadly the author treats the subject. It covers not only the  birth of children but also illegitimacy, bastardy books, magistrate court records and bastardy trials, unmarried mothers’ hostels, vaccination certificates, abortion, and adoption. For marriage, it covers newspaper collections, photographs, morganatic marriages, breach of promise, dowries and prenuptial agreements, Married Women’s Property Acts 1870 and 1882, divorce, and bigamy. For death it also includes coroner’s bills, wills and probate. Overall, these are not the commonly searched records when looking for birth, marriage or death information. Yet for women they can be vitally important.

The remaining chapters address the following topics equally thoroughly: education, crime and punishment, daily life, a hard day’s work and emancipation. Suggestions provided by the author  will teach the reader to  look at the usual record groups a little differently, and at the same time make suggestions about where to look to find out more about the lives of women in this time period. Many of the sections within chapters contain bibliographies for that topic. (Note that the published references given within the text may or may not be included in the concluding bibliography.)

The book concludes with a valuable timeline, going from 1753 Marriage Act up through the 1970 Equal Pay Act. Researchers will find this timeline especially useful for determining when rules may have changed, and why. There is also a good comprehensive index.  Your reviewer marked many items in this book for later follow up and research. For those struggling to track the women on their family trees, or wanting to flush out their lives more, especially in the 1815-1914 time period when so much was changing for women, it is an invaluable resource.

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