When we try to research our family history from recent decades, we often find privacy barriers: U.S. census records for 1950 and beyond
1950s Fords by Bob P.B. on Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
are closed, as are many vital records. Here are some ideas for finding family history in the 1950s and beyond:
1. Interview relatives. The good news is that in many families, there are relatives around who remembers the 1950s. If there’s not, then look to the memories of the next living generation.
Interviewing a relative is one of the most fun and meaningful ways to learn your family history. You can ask specific and personal questions, deepen your relationships with those you interview and gain a better understanding of the lives that led to you. Older people often love to have someone take a sincere interest in them. The free Family History Made Easy podcast episode 2 has a great segment on interviewing your relatives.
2. Read the newspaper. Use newspapers to find obituaries and discover more about daily life, current events, popular opinions of the time, prices for everyday items and more. It’s getting easier than ever to find and search digitized newspapers online, but more recent papers may still be under copyright protection.
Use online resources like to discover what newspapers served your family’s neighborhood, or even whether an ethnic, labor or religious press would have mentioned them. In the US, I always start with the US Newspaper Directory at Chronicling America to search for ALL newspapers published in a particular place and time, as well as the names of libraries or archives that have copies of these papers. Historical societies and local public libraries are also wonderful places to look for newspapers. My book, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, teaches readers what to look for in papers and how to locate them online and offline.
3. Search city directories. By the 1950s, most towns and cities published directories of residents, mostly with telephone numbers. I use annual directory listings to track buy generic medication online families from year to year. These might give you your first clue that someone moved, married, separated, divorced or died! I can often find their exact street address (great for mapping!), who lived at the house and sometimes additional information like where they worked, what their job was or who they worked for.
Ancestry.com has over a billion U.S. city directory entries online, up to 1989. But most other online city directory collections aren’t so recent. Look for city directories first in hometown public libraries. Check with larger regional or state libraries and major genealogical libraries.
4. Search for historical video footage. YouTube isn’t just for viral cat videos. Look there for old newsreels, people’s home movies and other vintage footage. It’s not unusual to find films showing the old family neighborhood, a school or community function, or other footage that might be relevant to your relatives.
Use the YouTube search box like you would the regular Google search box. Enter terms like “history,” “old,” “footage,” or “film” along with the names, places or events you hope to find. For example, the name of a parade your relative marched in, a team he played on, a company she worked for, a street he lived on and the like. It’s hit and miss, for sure, but sometimes you can find something very special.
My Contributing Editor Sunny Morton tried this tip. Almost immediately, with a search on the name of her husband’s ancestral hometown and the word “history,” she found a 1937 newsreel with her husband’s great-grandfather driving his fire truck with his celebrity dog! She recognized him from old photos and had read about his dog in the newspapers. (Click here to read her stunned post.) Learn more about searching for old videos in my all-new second edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, which has a totally updated chapter on YouTube.
Click here to read more about the 1950s U.S. census: when it will be out and how you can work around its privacy restrictions.
English genealogy records abound in this week’s roundup of new family history records online. Find England BMD, parish records, newspapers, and more. Also: an important addition to the British Newspaper Archive’s Irish newspaper collection, over 1,000 years of Chinese documents and records, German vital records, parish records for Italy and Sweden, and new US collections for VA, OH and NY.
English Genealogy Records Now Online
Ancestry.com subscribers can now search these English genealogy record collections:
- Bedfordshire Petty Sessions 1854-1915 This collection includes details of over 100,000 individuals involved in petty session hearings in Befordshire. Details for each individual may include name, role in the case, date of the hearing, location of the court, and even the fines or punishments given to the defendant(s).
- Bedfordshire Valuation Records 1838-1929 These records deal solely with the value of properties in Bedfordshire county. The volumes name the proprietor or tenant, describe or name the property and give an annual rental value. It will also sometimes give an acreage for the property.
- Bedfordshire Land Tax Records 1797-1832 Details found within this collection include may include year of residence, name of occupier, name of owner, and parish of residence.
- Shropshire Extracted Church of England Parish Records, 1538-1812. This collection of indexes is taken from various published versions of parish and probate records from Shropshire, England dating from the early 1500s (with some non-parish records earlier) to the late 1800s. “The records include baptisms/christenings, burials, marriages, tombstone inscriptions, obituaries, tax lists, wills, and other miscellaneous types of records,” states the collection description. “Also included are some records from non-conformist churches.”
At FamilySearch.org, you can now search a free collection of Staffordshire Church Records. In partnership with Findmypast’s expansion of Staffordshire records, this collection provides church records from 1538-1944. Nearly 5 million indexed records and over 278,000 images are included.
Over at Findmypast, subscribers can now search extensive new collections for Buckinghamshire. (The original records are held at the Buckinghamshire Archives.) New databases include:
- Buckinghamshire Baptism Index 870,000 transcripts created from original records held at the Buckinghamshire Archives. You will also discover your ancestor’s birthplace, the date of the baptism, their father’s occupation and residence.
- Buckinghamshire Banns Index Explore 101,000 records created from original parish registers and bishop’s transcripts. “Each transcript will reveal the name of your ancestor’s intended spouse, the couple’s residence, the dates the announcements were read and their intended date of marriage.”
- Buckinghamshire Marriage Index Over 485,000 transcripts “will reveal the couple’s birth years, marital status, occupation, date of marriage, place of marriage, residence, occupation, father’s names, father’s occupations and the names of any witnesses.”
- Buckinghamshire Burial Index More than 662,000 transcripts are included, created from original parish registers and bishop’s transcripts. “Each record will reveal your ancestor’s birth year, age at death, burial date, and residence. An archive reference is also included, allowing you to locate a copy of the original document.”
British and Irish Newspapers Now Online
Over 2.3 million new articles and 7 brand new titles have been added to the British Newspaper Archive’s collection of historic newspapers this month. New titles now available to search include:
- Tenby Observer
- Brechin Herald
- Milngavie and Bearsden Herald
- Alcester Chronicle
- Abergavenny Chronicle
- Ripley and Heanor News and Ilkeston Division Free Press
- Eastern Daily Press and the Colchester Gazette
Click here to explore these and other historic British Newspapers.
More than 5,000 pages from the Leitrim Advertiser have been added to Irish newspapers at the British Newspaper Archive. From the description: “The paper was originally published in Mohill, Leitrim and known in later years and The Leitrim and Longford Advertiser.” The earliest issue dates back to 1886, through 1916. With this addition, the British Newspaper Archive now has a newspaper for every county in Ireland!
German Births and Deaths: Bischofswerda
Ancestry.com has added new collections for Bischofswerda births (1876-1902) and deaths (1876-1951). Bischofswerda is located about 22 miles east of Dresden at the edge of Upper Lusatia in the German state of Saxony. To local residents, it is also known as “Schiebock” and known for its large historic market square and town hall.
Italian civil registration: Padova
FamilySearch has published 42,000 newly indexed records and images in its free collection, Civil Registration Records: Padova 1621 – 1914
. From the collection description: “Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the State Archive of Padova. Includes supplemental documents, residency records, ten-year indexes, and marriage banns. Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.”
Swedish Household Examination Books
Also at FamilySearch are 1 million indexed records and images for Swedish Household Examination Books 1880-1920
. According to the collection, “Each year until 1894 the Parish Priest would visit each home in the parish and test each individual’s knowledge of the catechisms. In addition, they would collect birth, death, and marriage dates as well as where families had moved to or from and when, etc. The priest would then come back each year and update or edit the information from the previous year and note any changes in the population of the home.” (These are also online at MyHeritage.com
.) Click here
to read a great article for getting started on your Swedish genealogy.
Chinese Records at the Library of Congress
An exciting announcement from the Library of Congress this week! “The contents of the Asian Division’s Pre-1958 Chinese Collection, totaling more than 42,000 items, are now fully searchable through the Library’s online catalog in both Chinese characters and Romanized script. This rich and diverse collection has served researchers and general audiences for nearly 90 years; until now, however, bibliographic records for these materials were only available through a card catalog.”
New York. The Vassar College Digital Newspaper Archive is now available online. Provided by the Vassar College Libraries, this archive provides access to newspapers published by Vassar College students. Earliest issues date back to 1872, and cover a wide range of topics and events on and off campus. This collection currently contains over 85,000 pages.
Ohio. New at Ancestry this week are Ohio Soldier Grave Registrations, 1804-1958. This database contains grave registration cards for soldiers from Ohio who served in the armed forces, mainly from the time of the War of 1812 up through the 1950s. Records may contain an individual’s name, date and place of birth, date and cause of death, location of burial, next of kin, military service information, and more.
Also in Ohio, Kent State University has completed the digital Daily Kent Stater Archive. It contains 90 years of Kent State student publications, dated from Feb 1926 to Dec 2016. According to the press release
, “it covers several historic events as well as some great memories for the Kent State alumnae.” Check out the introductory video!
Did you know? You can search the Genealogy Gems website for articles about your favorite genealogy categories–including records and research tips for several countries and ethnicities. Go to our home page and click on the dropdown menu under What do you want to learn about? Scroll down to see the various categories or start typing a few letters to jump down to that part of the alphabetical list.
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