Monday, March 7, 2016

Finding Records of Female Ancestors

My grandmother, Elaine Coffman Mayne and my mother, Jill Mayne 1937 Reno, Nevada
When copying old photographs be sure to include the studio name in your digital copy.
Paffrath Studio was located in Reno, Nevada.  Gram Elaine was residing in Reno in 1937 when she filed for divorce from her first husband, True Mayne.  Jill was born in November 1935 and the divorce was granted in October 1937.

March is Women's History Month  which makes it an appropriate time to focus our genealogy research efforts on our female ancestors.  Finding records for women can often be a challenge.  The names of American women change throughout their lives.  American women are found in genealogical records under their maiden names and their married names.  Genealogical search engines need to be tweaked when we are searching for women.

This is an earlier photo of "Gram Elaine" with her first daughter, Joan Vivian Mayne.
Judging by Joan's age in this photo it was probably taken about 1932 in San Francisco.
When using the search engine at, we find that women that have been married more than once are a particular challenge.  My maternal grandmother, Elaine Blanche Coffman Mayne Kelly DeGuire Thomas is a case in point.  "Gram Elaine" was married four times over the course of her 99 years on the planet.  For 54 years [1937 to 1991] she was known as Elaine Kelly. For eighteen years, she was known as Elaine Coffman, her maiden name [1910-1928].  For eleven years she was known as Elaine Thomas [1999-2010].  For nine years she was known as Elaine Mayne [1928-1937]. For three years she was known as Elaine DeGuire 1994-1997].

Trying to search all of these names at once overwhelms the search engine at As can be seen from the following search, many extraneous records are included in the results when searching for all her surnames at once:
Click on the "Edit Search" link to limit the search.

I recommend that users edit the search to include only one surname at a time.  For example, let's try changing the surname to Elaine Kelly and delete the rest of the names.  Since she was known as Elaine Kelly for the majority of her life, this will yield better search results.  It is also helpful to choose only the databases which are most likely to include women under their married names such as the U.S. City Directories database.  The following example shows several records for Elaine Kelly in the Sacramento City Directory:

Search results for "Elaine Kelly" in the City Directory database

The U.S. Public Records Database is an excellent source for searching your late 20th century females.  Here is a record for Gram Elaine when she was known as Elaine Thomas in the Public Records Database as shown below:

20th century females can be found in the U.S. Public Records Index
Jumping back two generations to Gram Elaine's paternal grandmother, Harriett Anne Ketcham Coffman 1853-1938, we can see another example of choosing the right database to search.  After performing a search for Harriett we see that one of the suggested databases is California Voter Registrations.  Given that Harriett resided in California from 1880 to 1938, we can find her in the California Voter records under her married name as shown below:
Harriett Ketcham Coffman was found in the California Voter Registration database
in the 1920s and 1930s in Oakland, California. The list at the top of this image shows
some of the records that I have already attached to her profile. Adding voter registrations
and city directories will help to fill in the blanks in her timeline between census years.

I have many more tips on how to find female ancestors in my presentation entitled: How to Become an Power User.  Please contact me if you need assistance using or if you would like me to review and edit your family tree on

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