Monday, January 17, 2011

Matrilineal Monday - Musings on matrilineal genealogy

I like this category very much, I have to say. I think I'll enjoy posting on this in the future. But for today, I just wanted to comment on matrilineal genealogy, which traces the female branches of a tree.

When I first started becoming seriously interested in genealogy, I had huge sheets (you had to roll them out on the floor, they were so big) of paper tracing (rather inaccurately, too, it turns out) the Raynor family tree, which is my mother's line. As I've noted before, that tree was pretty extensive before I'd even started, researched and recorded by people years before I was even born. I would sit there for hours reading all the names and recording them into my own book. I was fascinated by it. And saddened by it.

I wasn't on it.

My mother was. But as with every other female on that tree, the Raynor line stopped with her. Now, I get that, especially when trees were recorded on paper, which does not have the infinite space that the Internet does, you have to make choices about who to continue to follow. And I get that for Raynor genealogy, for example, it can be easier to just follow anyone who keeps the Raynor name. But just because I'm a Gorry doesn't make me any less a Raynor than my Raynor cousins, the children of my mother's brothers. We're all half Raynor. We're all branches of that same tree.

At the same time, because it was a Raynor family tree, there was no history on the women who married into it. So I had no information on my great-great grandmother Annie Poole's forebears or origins. I saw Seamans and Halls and all sorts of other female lines on this tree that I knew nothing about.

So, according to these genealogists, if I married into a tree, it was my husband who would be traced. And as a female on my father's tree, my children would not be included.

So needless to say, as a female genealogist, I've been very interested in matrilineal genealogy from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, because we live in a society where women take their husband's names, the women on our trees often get lost, and consequently, so do their families. We can choose to trace the male line as far back as we can go, and that is fine - doing more than that can be time-consuming and can lead to many brick walls - but genealogy is never a straight line. It's not called a "family tree" for nothing. I may have the name Gorry but I am the product of Raynors and Bergs and Stutzmanns and Caseys and a thousand other families, too. And when I marry and have children, I don't want that to be lost - I want them to know and appreciate all the lines they come from, both male and female.

And as a quick note, even though I am at work today, I wish everyone a happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day - hope we all take a minute today to think about his message and vision and everything he stood for!


  1. This line can be really hard to search I agree. So easy to name our male ancestors but fun to think and search for the woman who gave up her name when she married. grace

  2. Matrilineage is totally where it's at for me; and I smile to know that the mtDNA test does exactly that. Also reminded of the Jews, and their culture/religion based on their matrilineage ... and of course, when Kate married Prince William, her matrilineal line was the one the press published. For some reason, I thought that a woman's genealogy followed her Mother's line as a matter of tradition, though I can't right now, remember for the life of me, why I thought that in the first place. I enjoyed reading your blog; and I continue to look for the Grannies !