Packed with Packards and existing social hierarchies

A photograph of E.P.W. Packard from one her books.

In Jackie Hogan’s book, Roots Quest: Inside America’s Genealogy Boom, she writes about how in the U.S. roots work can encourage conformity to social values and norms, since genealogists make choices on what ancestors they focus on, resulting existing social hierarchies to be legitimized, all while “patriarchal bias” runs rampant with more focus on men, rather than women. She also notes, however, that even though roots work can maintain the status quo, it can also challenge existing social arrangements and hierarchies, as it can contest “long-standing hierarchies” and make demands for more “equitable arrangements,” serving as a “pathway toward social change.” This brought me to the realization that I should do a survey of my genealogy blogposts on Packed with Packards! and moving to other blogs. This analysis will focus the gender of the ancestors I have written about and what I can do to ensure that my posts work to challenge rather than maintain the status quo. Use the categories of “male” and “female” while having a full realization that these are not the only two genders out there, as there many other genders. I sadly doubt there few, if any ancestors, which fall into this category. I would also like to write more posts about ancestors who pushed progressive causes and had a role in making society better, but that also needs to be squared with gender diversity as well.

In this analysis, I’m not going to consider a number of posts, although most on blogs are fair game. [1] I realize that a good number of my early posts, especially in 2017 and 2018 , are absolutely awful, either due to a lack of content or something else entirely. I apologize for that. I think I was so desperate to post content that I decided to value quantity over quality, leading to a degradation of the blog itself. To read the original data I used for this analysis, which shows the raw data and breaks it down by gender, which I threw into ChartGo Stock Charts, for the below visualizations, go here. While there is the possibility I may have forgotten some ancestors I wrote about this blog by accident, I believe my analysis is relatively comprehensive.

I recommend others do a similar analysis on their blogs, looking at their “major” and “minor” mentions of ancestors. Major means an ancestor is a central part of the post, and/or the post focused specifically on them. It can also include whose are named  at least two times in a post, although this is rare. For instance, a post on my badass ancestor, E.P.W. (Elizabeth Parsons Ware) Packard, which talks about her role in mental health reform would be considered a major mention, like the one I published back in August. Contrasting this is a minor mention, which is more common. These ancestors are either mentioned only once or so, usually referring to children of an ancestor and their wife or husband, depending on the gender of the ancestor. I’m not going to focus on the race of my ancestors, because they are all White, apart from enslaved blacks. Specifically, Zachariah Packard owned enslaved blacks and Captain Samuel Packard tried to steal Africans from the Western African coast, which was illegal at the time. Luckily, there were other ancestors who were anti-slavery. Also, I’m not going to focus on sexual orientation, as I probably will never know about the true sexual orientation of most of my ancestors, although I could probably reasonably say that most of them are straight. That doesn’t seem to be an overreach to say the least. With that, let’s dive on in this analysis!

Shocking gender non-diversity in major mentions of ancestors

Even if I overstated those ancestors who had a major focus on my blog, my results were not pretty. For every woman in this category, there were three men I focused on! To put this in other terms, I focused on almost 300% more men than women. Specifically, of the 157 ancestors who had a major focus on this blog, 40 were female (25.5%) and 117 were male (74.5%). This is appalling and shameful. Clearly, I need to write more posts about female ancestors. As such, this is something to work on in the future. This is why I refuse to write about people like Samuel Packard anymore, although people like Dale Cook think its “important” enough to literally troll my blog and look for “errors” I made. Its interesting he NEVER does this for any of my female ancestors. Isn’t that convenient! I mean, Mr. Cook has done some good work, I’m just a bit annoyed with him. I would like to focus on more formidable females.

Due to the over-abundance of men, am I supporting existing hierarchies and does the blog have a “patriarchal bias”? I sure hope not, but I will say that I likely focused on male ancestors because that is where the records are…and due to the fact that my Packard lineage is patrilineal rather than matrilineal. This is on my grandfather’s side (my mom’s dad) and he wrote the history in a patrilineal manner, talking about “progenitors” meaning a forefather or a person’s direct ancestors, to summarize from Wikitionary. That is funny because my ancestry through the Packards is actually indirect as I’ve written about before. As such, I can’t break away from focusing on the patrilineal connections in that sense. However, I can still focus on more women within my family tree. Fictional Princess Bonnibel “Bonnie” Bubblegum was right when she said that, “families are tricky.” This is definitely the case with the Packards!

Sure, I used maiden names for women whenever I had them available, but what Kimberly Powell writes here is worth quoting, as she has some good points about writing about tracing women in your family tree:

The individual identities of women who lived prior to the twentieth century are often very tangled in those of their husbands, both by law and by custom…[as such] female ancestors are often neglected in family histories and genealogies—listed with only a first name and approximate dates for birth and death. They are our “invisible ancestors”…This neglect, while understandable, is still inexcusable. Half of all of our ancestors were women. Each female in our family tree provides us with a new surname to research and an entire branch of new ancestors to discover. Women were the ones who bore the children, carried on family traditions, and ran the household. They were teachers, nurses, mothers, wives, neighbors and friends. They deserve to have their stories told – to be more than just a name on a family tree…Tracing the female side of your family tree can be a bit difficult and frustrating, but is also one of the most rewarding challenges of genealogy research…Generally, the single best place to locate a maiden name for a female ancestor is on her marriage record…If you find a record of the marriage for your female ancestor, then be sure to take note of all pertinent information, including the names of the bride and groom, places of residence, ages, occupations, date of the marriage, the person who performed the marriage, witnesses, etc. Every little detail can lead to new information…However, a maiden name can usually be ascertained from the father’s surname…Prior the the 20th century divorces were often difficult (and expensive) to obtain, especially for women. They can, however, sometimes provide clues to maiden names when no other sources exist…The cemetery may be the only place where you will find proof of the existence of a female ancestor. This is especially true if she died young and had little time to leave official records of her existence…While at the cemetery, make note of the exact spelling of your female ancestor’s name, the dates of her birth and death, and her spouse’s name, if listed. Be cautious, however, when jumping to conclusions based on this information as tombstone inscriptions are often incorrect…Once you locate your female ancestor in the census, be sure to copy the entire page on which she is listed. To be on the safe side you may even want to copy the page directly before and after hers as well. Neighbors may be relatives and you will want to keep an eye on them. Make a note of the names of your female ancestor’s children. Women often named their children after their mother, father, or favorite brothers & sisters…Pay close attention to the people listed in the household with your ancestor, especially if they are listed with a different surname…Land records are some of the earliest available genealogical records in the United States…A woman’s legal rights varied depending on whether she lived in an area governed by civil or common law…When a couple sold land in the nineteenth century, the woman is often identified due to her right of dower…When you are examining deed indexes for your surnames, look for the Latin phrases “et ux.” (and wife) and “et al.” (and others)…This will often occur when land is divided upon someone’s death, and can lead you to a will or probate record.

I knew some of this from a class I took in college, Women in the Law, but this still was a good refresher, to say the least.

While it is often difficult to find any reference to women in history, looking at female ancestors is important because they are ones that give us new family line lines, which can help “explode myths and challenge stereotypes.” That’s more reason than any to focus on these ancestors, without a doubt! You can write about Beck Kobel’s post, where she spotlights young women who married too young, who were part of polygamous relationships, or tombstones of female ancestors, to give two examples.

There’s one more point I’d like to make in this section. If we are writing about men, can you focus on people who have beautiful hair? Generally the answer is NO. Just look at my favorite cartoon characters as way to show this as true. For instance, 28 in this listing are women. All have beautiful, pretty and/or cute hair:

  • Carmen Sandiego in the new series
  • Marceline Abadeer the Vampire Queen
  • Princess Bubblegum (PB)
  • Huntara
  • Adora (especially when She-Ra)
  • Rainbow Quartz
  • Opal
  • Glimmer
  • Spinnerella
  • Netossa
  • Rose Quartz
  • Lapis Lazuli
  • Bismuth
  • Sadie Miller
  • Carmen Sandiego from the 1990s show
  • Anthy Himemiya
  • Utena Tenjou
  • Turanga Leela
  • Amethyst
  • Connie Maheswaran
  • Peridot
  • Pearl
  • Mermista
  • Perfuma
  • Entrapta
  • Phebe the Flame Princess (FP)
  • Marshmaline the Campfire Queen
  • Sapphire (half of Garnet)

Steg, a male fusion, Greg Universe, Stevonnie (non-binary and intersex), Samurai Jack are some exceptions, however.

Almost gender parity in minor mentions of ancestors?

The results from this category did make me feel better, although I also have some work to do. Men still outnumber women out of the 501 mentions I counted. 273 were men (54.5%), 227 were female (45.3%), and 1 had a gender I couldn’t determine (.2%). This brings to me what Gena Philibert-Ortega writes on Genealogy Bank:

There’s no doubt that tracing female ancestors can be difficult and sometimes near impossible. Unlike men who were documented via different types of transactions throughout their lives, women can seemingly disappear just by marrying an unknown-to-you spouse or spouses…A non-married woman will be listed by her given name and surname (a.k.a. maiden name), while a married woman might be listed as Mrs. [insert husband’s first name or initials and surname]. A widow may revert back to using her given name, so that Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. J. W. Smith becomes Mrs. Grace Smith after his death…make sure that you are searching all variations of a female ancestor’s name…As you research, use a timeline of dates and places to help you find newspaper articles that you may miss just searching by a name, due to misspellings or name variations. Find the corresponding newspaper articles for your timeline that document the major events in her life: birth, engagement, wedding, children’s births, major anniversary milestones, and death…Stay away from making assumptions about your ancestor’s life. Don’t fall into the old “she was just a housewife” syndrome. You might be surprised to find what she was involved in during her lifetime.

There are also a host of other articles I found, like “Tracing Female Ancestors Through A Child’s Records” where Lisa Lisson notes that tracking down female ancestors requires thinking “outside the box”, suggesting looking through the records of a child instead. Another good one is Donna Przecha’s “Finding Female Ancestors and Maiden Names” where she notes that there should be a focus on maiden names, so-called “non-productive sources,” the existing laws on the books referring to women, divorce, and various federal and state information sources. Mary Harrell-Sesniak’s “8 Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestry” also seems like a helpful source. Her seven tips (she miscounted, as its seven, not eight) are simple:

  1. Know All of Your Ancestor’s Identities (like nicknames and alternate names)
  2. Search All of Your Ancestor’s Titles
  3. Search for Pseudonyms
  4. Search by Her Initials
  5. Incorporate Cultural Considerations in Searches
  6. Search Multiple Sources for Marriage Records
  7. Enter “Maiden Name” as a Search Engine Keyword

There’s a bunch of other resources, like those noted by Cyndi’s List, Linda Clyde’s “Ever Wonder Why It’s So Hard to Trace Your Female Ancestry?,” Amy Johnson Crow’s “Unusual Sources for Finding Female Ancestors,” and “The Tapestry of our Female Ancestors’ Lives,” to give a few examples.

Onward to a better blog! Woohoo!


[1] This includes my “From Samuel to Cyrus: A fresh look at the History of the Packard Family” (as its mostly a bunch of pictures) post, welcome post, the two posts (here and here) on the unreliable Packard family history book, the “Packards in parish registers” post, the “Samuel Packard and generations after: the pages compiled by Dale Cook” post, the “Examining the sources of the Plymouth Colony Pages” post, “The UK’s National Archives outlines varying Packards” post, the ““Introduction” to my Packard family history” post, the “Family tree chart for reference” post, “Concluding remarks and photographs” post, “Red House Farm” post, “Packard Poem” post, “Selected content about the Packards from Grandpa Don Plefka (Harry Ronald Cecora)” post, “Seminar on the Packard family in Ohio” post, “Plainfield, Massachusetts today” post, “Continuing the story of Plainfield, a “small hill town” in the Berkshire Highlands” post, “Emails from two former Packard researchers” post, “Packard descendants out there!” post, “Original documents for Packard and related families” post, “Unlocking the origin of the Library of Congress’s “Packard Campus” in Culpeper” post, “Direct vs. indirect descent in the Packard line” post, “Analyzing ‘Packard’s Progress’” post, “An addendum unfinished: Bob’s “sentimental journey to Massachusetts”” post, “A break well-deserved” post, “The story behind the Packard Cemetery in Cameron, Missouri” post, “Visiting Abigail and Capt Samuel Packard’s gravesites in Rhode Island” post, “The story of Packardsville, MA” post, “The UK’s National Archives are ‘packed with Packards’” post, and the “Places with ‘Packard’ in the name across the U.S.” post.

3 thoughts on “Packed with Packards and existing social hierarchies

  1. Pingback: The first in a line of Packards: the story of Elizabeth | Packed with Packards!

    • Becks, it’s my pleasure! Some day I’ll write a story with a poly relationship in it, but I’ll definitely write about women who marry too young, as there are definitely some of those in my lineage without a doubt. – Burkely


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