Making Her Presence Known
It’s often “a man’s world” when it comes to researching ancestors in Upper Canada. Legal limitations on the ability of women to own land or participate in elections eliminates most of them from some of the common areas of source material. But there are some records which yield surprising amounts of information, such as guardianship applications, jail registers, surrogate filings, apprenticeship and school records, newspaper articles and bastardy oaths. Women’s struggles to defend themselves against men in cases of marital abuse, breach of promise of marriage, or the burden of an illegitimate pregnancy have left behind valuable clues to the day to day existence and family life of these early 19th century women. Likewise, the problems encountered by those women who found themselves in the position of having to provide not only for themselves but also for a young family, generated paper trails which can often be helpful to a researcher. These can take the form of petitions for pensions, for land to which an absent or deceased husband was entitled, or possibly for a menial government position. Court records, such as judges’ bench books, reveal details of many aspects of the day to day life and issues faced by women of the day, and their attempts to overcome them.
This lecture will guide the audience through the records left behind in archives and libraries that researchers can use today to enhance their knowledge of female ancestors. The information which can be gleaned from each source will be discussed, as will the circumstances which led to each type of record being kept, and how the laws governing the access of females to the rights and privileges enjoyed by men changed throughout the years.