Why A Woman?

During that time period when women had fewer legal rights, if I encounter a woman being appointed a guardian or providing testimony in a case or trial, I ask myself “Why?”

Not because I don’t think women can do these things. They can. I ask that because it was unusual during the time period and a woman’s appearance in certain records when few women did is usually a clue in itself. And genealogists need to take any clues they can get?

  • Why did a female become guardian for her children in Illinois in 1855? Likely because there were no other relatives nearby who were of the male persuasion and who were willing and able to perform the duties of that position.
  • Why did a female become guardian for her child in Kentucky in 1815? Same reason.
  • Why did a female (other than the widow) provide testimony in a Revolutionary War widow’s pension case? Because the widow was trying to prove her year of marriage and the daughter was the oldest child and testified to that fact in her deposition.
  • Why did a woman become a naturalized citizen in South Dakota before women had the right to vote and when very few women bothered to naturalize on their own? So she could obtain a homestead in her own right (and you had to be a citizen to do that).

When it’s unusual for a person to do what they are doing, it’s important for the genealogist to ask why. The fact that they are doing it is a clue–sometimes a bigger one than we think.

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