During most of the early history of the United States, women came under the legal status of their husbands. This meant that women were not required to be directly involved in many of the records kept at that time. Since this can make women harder to find, to be successful you need to understand which records might provide you with their names, or at least clues you can combine together to identify them. To find women in the records, it is important to focus on the men they were related to: husbands, fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sons, and even uncles or cousins.
Records are listed in general order, starting with the records most likely to be successful due to record content and ease of access.
TRY THESE RECORDS FIRST:
Vital Records - General Principles
Check availability in the FamilySearch Wiki by searching for the [name of state] and “birth” or “marriage” or “death”.
In most states, marriage records start when the county began (or the town in New England.)
Birth and death certificates usually began in the early 1900s. If the family was born in the 1800s then search first for the death certificates for those children who might have died in the 1900s.
Always note the names of the witnesses or informants because they are often close relatives, but remember that the informant might not always know/provide all the correct information.
Check the “Atlas of Historical County Boundaries” to understand the county boundaries at the time of the event. Your ancestor might have lived in two different counties, but never moved.
If not found, then extend the search years on each side of the event and check surrounding counties.
Find Vital Records:
FamilySearch, Ancestry ($), and FindMyPast ($) have many vital records.
FamilySearch Wiki: search [name of state] and “online records.”
Vital records to search:
Their marriage license or certificate
Check the county where 1) the couple was first listed in the census, 2) where their first child was born, or 3) where the individuals lived before marriage.
Check several census records after 1850 to determine her state of birth and check there.
Look for marriage banns and bonds in earlier time periods.
Her Death certificate and her spouse’s – especially for those deaths after early 1900s.
Find the birth, marriage and death certificates/license for each of her children.
Census Records - Find your female ancestor in each census record she was alive.
In 1850 and later, the U.S. Census lists each person by name, and from 1880 on they listed the person’s relationship to the head of household.
Sometimes a young couple might be living with her parents, or an aging parent or one of her siblings might live with the couple.
After 1850, find the husband in a census just before he was married. Search for women with the same first name and of the right age who lived in the same or nearby towns or counties.
Prior to 1850, look for possible surnames in families who lived nearby who had a female who was age 15-29.
Remember to look for state censuses as well. Check the FamilySearch Wiki for availability.
Always view the original record for additional details that might provide evidence.
Find Census Records:
Published family trees – use these trees only as a suggestion to confirm with further research.
NEXT SEARCH IN THESE RECORDS:
City Directories –have been published usually yearly since the early 1800's.
An alphabetical listing of inhabitants arranged by name, address, and occupation, with the wife sometimes listed in parenthesis.
Widows, working women, and sometimes adult children at home were listed.
City directories are a good place to check possible surnames nearby.
Find City Directories:
Ancestry ($): City Directories
United States Online Historical Directories
Family History Library Catalog: [state, county, city]; or [name of state] and “city directory.”
Local and County histories
Also check histories for siblings, children or grandchildren.
WorldCat Library is an online catalog for many libraries around the world. It will also reference online sources for some books. If not available online, you can often do interlibrary loan through your local library.
FamilySearch Catalog lists books available at the Family History and it also has a link to the book if they have digitized it.
Google search: [county, state] and “history”
Watch for Naming Patterns - Especially watch for unusual first or middle names
Church Marriage or Christening Records
Newspapers for birth or marriage announcements
Immigration or Naturalization records
Perform a Google Search
Research her Extended Family, Associates, and Neighbors (FAN Club)