Jen Newby, author of a great new book on the subject, writes: While history can seem weighted towards the male view, there are always stories waiting to be told from women's perspectives.
When I was a child, instead of fairy tales my grandmothers told me stories about the women in my family. Some of these weren't far from Brothers Grimm territory, with a wicked stepmother who held séances; a younger son seeking his fortunes in London and returning with a mysterious bag of gold; and a downstairs country house romance.
Years later, I started working at a genealogy magazine, handily based at The National Archives, and spent many happy afternoons delving into dusty files, discovering long-forgotten women, like debutanté turned drug addict Brenda Dean Paul and 'Lady Haldon', a 60-year-old woman who convinced the world that she had borne a recently-deceased Lord's baby.
During this time I learned that it was equally possible to investigate the lives of ordinary women and I decided to write a book on the topic, focusing on working women, but also exploring the upper classes and those living in poverty outside society. Using original sources and archives, I followed Amy Gregory, a young woman from Richmond, who became homeless in the 1890s and left her baby to die on an icy pond; I watched Elizabeth Kenning, a prostitute in early 1800s Manchester descend into the gutter; and I tramped after female vagrant Mary Saxby, who endured life on the road in the 1700s.
Your female line is probably more likely to turn up domestic servants than debutantés, but you can still find out plenty of information about how they lived. By doing a little research into the period when a woman lived, you can piece together what her daily life would have been like. For instance, reading Victorian factory inspectors' interviews with women workers or by picking up a memoir of a domestic servant, you can learn about their lives and the pressures your own female forebears were under.
If you haven’t already, then take the time to investigate the women in your family tree and speak to surviving female relatives – you never know what you might discover!
• Virginia Nicholson's new book, Millions Like Us (published by Penguin) interweaves dozens of different women's wartime stories to build a compelling picture of life for women on the Home Front or in the Forces.
• A brand new website full of resources on Yorkshire women's lives through the ages has recently been created by the University of Huddersfield at http://historytoherstory.hud.ac.uk
• The Women's Library (www.londonmet.ac.uk/thewomenslibrary) in London is a fantastic centre of resources on women's history. Their latest exhibition 'All Work and Low Pay' uncovers the history of British women at work (until April 2012).
• The first genealogy blog I've come across dedicated to tracing the writer's female line, Who Does She Think She is? will inspire you to discover more about the women in your own family http://whodoesshethinksheisblog.com.