One of the challenges genealogists find when researching female ancestors is the lack of resources that document their lives. Legacy Tree Genealogists’ Allison McCord helps celebrate Women’s History Month by showcasing three women born in the mid-1800s, documented through the 1900 U.S. Census, which required more detailed information than any previous census.
As Women’s History Month is celebrated in March, have you been wondering about the history of the women in your family tree? Women’s History Month fits like a glove with genealogical research. Who were your four great-grandmothers? What did the lives of these women look like at the turn of the 20th century?
An excellent resource for discovering more about the women in your family tree is the 1900 U.S. Census. Available for searching the major genealogy databases such as MyHeritage, Ancestry, and FamilySearch, this enumeration required more information than any previous census. For the first time that census asked for the birth month as well as birth year, and important for women, the number of children born and the number of children still living. As such, this census has the unique potential for providing fascinating detail regarding the lives and history of the women in your family tree.
We would like to focus on three women who lived in the year 1900 and spotlight what we can learn from the details collected in the census taken that year in the United States.
Spotlight: Anna Howard
First, let’s meet Anna Howard. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Anna’s address was 16 Prices Alley in Charleston, South Carolina. She lived in the household of her husband, Benjamin Howard, along with four daughters and one son.
Thirty-eight-year-old Anna was born in February 1862. She had been married for 21 years and had given birth to 12 children, five still living. On the enumeration, it was reported that she, her parents, her husband, his parents, and the five children were all born in South Carolina. Her husband worked as a day laborer with two months of unemployment during the previous year. The family lived in a rented house. Everyone in the household could read, but she and her husband could not write. From these details, we can piece together elements that begin to paint the picture of her remarkable life.
An African American, Anna was born in the American South two years prior to Emancipation, likely born to enslaved parents. Among the first generation of emancipated African Americans, she married at about age 17 to 22-year-old Benjamin. Her husband’s employment as a day laborer implied Anna worked hard alongside her husband to keep the family fed and clothed. She also worked hard to ensure her children could both read and write.
Focusing on her 12 children, Anna experienced the grief of losing and burying a child an unspeakable seven times. Studying the ages of her living children, Anna likely gave birth once a year, with seven of her middle children perishing (Selina, age 18; Benjamin, age 17; child; child; child; child; child; child; child; Lois, age 8; Anna, age 7; Eliza, age 6.) 
Spotlight: Fannie Harman
Another woman to celebrate during Women’s History Month is Fannie Harman. While she was not famous and did not earn a page in the history books, what we’ve learned about her from the 1900 U.S. Census is intriguing.
She lived in Moscow, Hickman County, Kentucky. She was white and the head of her household. She was born in May 1862 and was widowed at age 38. She had given birth to five children, all five still living.
Fannie’s father was born in Ireland and her mother in Kentucky. She was a farmer and owned her home free of mortgage debt. All five of her children resided in the home with her. Fannie’s deceased husband was from Alabama. Her children were born in Kentucky, except the youngest, who was born in Texas. Everyone in the household could read and write.
Fannie was born during the heat of the U.S. Civil War to a father who immigrated from Ireland and then settled and likely married in Kentucky. While widowed at 38 must have been a hardship, she had been spared the anguish of losing any of her children.
These fascinating leads encourage a deeper investigation to find answers to questions regarding her birth or death in Hickman County records, search earlier censuses to find the name of her husband, determine through his death records and potential obituary the story of how Fannie became a widow, and perhaps follow the lives of her children. 
Spotlight: Vere McMaster
Another woman to celebrate during Women’s History Month is Vere McMaster. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Vere lived at 142 East Wall Street in Brigham City, Box Elder County, Utah. She was white and lived as a wife to head-of-household J.B. McMaster.
She was born in August 1852 in Scotland to parents of Scottish nativity. She immigrated to the United States in 1864 and had lived in the U.S. for 36 years. Her husband was a hardware dealer and they lived in their home free of mortgage. In 1900 she was age 47 and had been married for 13 years. She had given birth to nine children, five still living.
Residing in the home were five children and two stepchildren (keep in mind that this relationship designated how the child was related to the head of household and not necessarily to the wife). All in the household could read and write.
From these census details, we realize that Vere was not an ordinary woman. Born in Scotland where her ancestors likely lived for centuries, at about age 12, Vere sailed to America, making her way to the small rural town of Brigham City. The year she traveled, 1864, was the year the transcontinental railroad was completed only a few miles from Brigham City. Further investigation could discover if Vere was one of the first to ride a train across America, rather than walk for three months.
Vere experienced heartache when four of her children died. From the surnames of two of her husband’s stepdaughters living in the household, Vere was likely married to a man with their surname.
With three of the children in the household under the age of 13 and the number of years she had been married to Mr. McMaster, she likely had those children with Mr. McMaster. A quick search today on maps.google.com with the address on the census showed a home that was built before 1900. We can confirm that Vere’s house is still standing. 
1900 U.S. Census
As demonstrated, the 1900 U.S. Census is a powerful tool for gathering the history of the women (and other family members) in your tree. Keep in mind, of course, that information recorded on the census is only as accurate as the person was who provided the information, which could have been the resident, a child living in the residence, or a neighbor if the resident wasn’t home. Nevertheless, the information is a solid starting point for any narrative, and correlating the information with other documents is the best practice for seeking truth.
Following is the information required in this enumeration that can be gathered about your ancestor, listed by column.
LOCATION: Street; House Number; Number of dwelling house, in the order of visitation; Number of family, in the order of visitation
NAME of each person whose place of abode on June 1, 1900, was in this family; Enter surname first, then the given name and middle initial, if any; Include any person living on June 1, 1900; OMIT children born since June 1, 1900
RELATION: Relationship of each person to the head of the family
PERSONAL DESCRIPTION: Color or race; Sex; Date of Birth, Month, Year; Age at last birthday; Whether single, married, widowed, or divorced; Number of years married; Mother of how many children; Number of these children living
NATIVITY: Place of birth of each person and parents of each person enumerated. If born in the United States, give the State or Territory; if of foreign birth, give the Country only; Place of birth of this PERSON; Place of birth of FATHER of this person; Place of birth of MOTHER of this person
CITIZENSHIP: Year of immigration to the United States; Number of years in the United States; Naturalization
OCCUPATION, TRADE, or PROFESSION of each person TEN YEARS of age and over; Occupation; Months not employed
EDUCATION: Attended School (in months); Can read; Can write; Can speak English
OWNERSHIP OF HOME: Owned or rented; Owned free or mortgaged; Farm or house; Number of farm schedule
Legacy Tree Genealogists has extensive experience in helping clients trace their ancestors from all over the world, and we can help you dig through census records to find details about your ancestors to preserve the details of their lives. Contact us today for a free quote!
Sources 1900 U.S. Census (popular schedule), Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, ED 75, sheet 13-A, Benj. Howard household, https://ancestry.com, accessed March 2022.  1900 U.S. Census (popular schedule), Moscow, Hickman, Kentucky, ED 57, sheet 9A, Fannie Harman household, https://ancestry.com, accessed March 2022.  1900 U.S. Census (popular schedule), Brigham City, Box Elder, Utah, ED 303, sheet 8A, J.B. McMaster household, https://ancestry.com, accessed March 2022.
Andrea Gyergyak says
Hello Allison – I am hoping you can help me finally trace and honour my Mothers legacy. Limited documents have rendered my search almost impossible but i know I am overlooking something obvious hence my reaching out to you. My Mother was a revolutionist/university student in hungary 1956 – wounded in the firing squad, taken to camp Rotter then sponsored and settling in Australia. Her Maternal Mother and father are also a mystery- I have photos from her past linking her to a line of important people but without names and contacts are am at a loss. My mother begged me to write a book not long before she took her like in 1980 and now 2022 I have managed to write on 50 pages of stories that she shared with me with no actual records other than that of her time in camp rotter. Please help me – Desperardo
Beth Harrison says
Hi Andrea, thank you for sharing your family situation. We believe we can help you honor your mother’s legacy. To make sure you have the best possible research experience with us, it begins by matching your details and goals with the most appropriate research project for you. To get started, please complete this form to request a free quote, and a member of our Client Solutions Team will reach out to you!