Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.
A female ancestor is just that, an ancestor who is female in gender. What is significant about female ancestors in genealogy is the difficulty of researching them. Identifying women is one problem, particularly in cultures where women take their husband's name and often become "lost" in the records. In addition to the name change, women were often subordinated and not allowed to own real estate or enter into contracts, etc. Thus, finding women in the public record takes a bit of effort and ingenuity. Today, a more concerted effort is being made to bring the identity of women to light and make it easier to research female ancestors.
That said, many records do exist in which a woman can be identified. For example, she will is almost certain to be identified by her maiden name in the marriage record (if a marriage record exists; is often identified by her maiden name in the birth record of her children, and may be identified by her "married" name in the will of a father or other family member. Other clues to a woman's maiden name and identity exist in other documents as well. One key to researching women may be in examining the history of particular states (or countries) to learn the legal status of women and the ways in which women were dealt with in the public record and the gains made by women over time.