‘Good genes’ models assume that females can use a signal such as mating effort to assess a male's lifetime fitness. Inferring long–term performance from short–term behavioural observations can be unreliable, and repeated sampling may be needed for more accurate assessment of males. Additionally, if sexual advertisement is viewed as a life–history trait subject to trade–offs, reliable comparison of mates should yield information on all life–history components rather than on one trait value in one season. We show that in the lekking black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), a male's success is best explained by assuming that females are informed of the past history of males up to the beginning of the study (eight years). Much of this extremely lasting ‘memory’ can be attributed to females observing long–term outcomes of male–male competition: current territory position is the only momentarily observable variable that has high power in predicting female choice, and it correlates to a male's past lekking effort on a cumulative lifetime scale. We conclude that females can use territory position as a signal that conveys information of a male's lifetime performance that combines lekking effort and longevity. Females may thus overcome the problem of male allocations varying in time, without the need to pay costs associated with repeated sampling.