Remember the Sears Catalog? It’s on Ancestry.com

Sears Catalog Fall 1960, Cover. Digital image from Ancestry.com. Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Sears Roebuck Catalogs 1896–1993. Vol.102–228 K. Chicago, Illinois: Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Back in “the day,” American consumers window-shopped by mail with the Sears catalog. From 1888-1993, the Sears catalog stocked millions of American households and fed the Christmas lists of men, women and children.

Wouldn’t pages from the Sears catalog make a lively addition to your family history posts, pins, pages and  conversations? Ancestry.com thinks so, too! They’ve digitized the catalogs and they’re keyword-searchable here. (Just a word of advice: browse a certain issue or search for a specific product. A keyword search for “bicycle” brings up over 5000 results through the OCR technology used to find matches.)

According to this brief history, the Sears catalog first launched as a mailer for watches and jewelry in 1888. “The time was right for mail order merchandise,” says the article. “Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, America’s westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical.”

Here’s one more blast from the American consumer past: Sears kit houses. Have you heard of these? You used to be able to order pre-fabricated homes from Sears. You could customize one of many standard sets of plans, and all the materials would be pre-cut and delivered to your home, “some assembly required,” so to speak. Learn more about Sears kit houses and see images of several designs (1908-1940) here. Did your family ever live in a kit house? Tell us about it on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page!

Find Old Maps Online at this Gateway Site

gateway to maps of the worldNext time you’re trying to find old maps online, take a look at OldMapsOnline.

As the site explains, “The OldMapsOnline Portal is an easy-to-use gateway to historical maps in libraries around the world.” And not just a few minor libraries, but a long list of major libraries, like:
  • the British Library
  • David Rumsey Map Collection
  • Charles University (Prague)
  • Dutch National Archives
  • Geo-spacial.org (Romanian)
  • Harvard Library Map Collection
  • Map Library of Catalonia
  • Land Survey Office Czech Republic
  • the National Libraries for nations like Scotland, Wales and Colombia
The portal allows the user to search for online digital historical maps across numerous different collections via a geographical search. Search by typing a place-name or by clicking in the map window, and narrow by date. The search results provide a direct link to the map image on the website of the host institution.”

Historic_Maps_VideoTo learn more about using old maps online and for genealogy, go to our home page and search on the Maps category on the lower left side of the page. Genealogy Gems Premium members also have access to full-length video classes like 5 Ways to Enhance Your Genealogy Research with Old MapsGoogle Earth for GenealogySanborn Fire Insurance Maps (NEW!); and Time Travel with Google EarthNot a Genealogy Gems Premium member? Click here to become one!

Boston Catholic Records Now at Ancestry.com, and Other New Collections

New at Ancestry.com are Boston Catholic records, thanks to a partnership with the New England Historical Genealogical Society. Also new this week are big updates for the Big Apple with lots of new and updated collections for New York. Additional new collections for the United States, Australia, and New Zealand are highlighted this week. 

Boston Catholic Records

Boston Catholic Records Now at Ancestry.com

Ancestry and New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) have collaborated to make Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Records now available on Ancestry.com. This unique collection includes approximately 10 million names from Massachusetts Catholic records from the late 1700s to the early 1900s.

“The detailed documents in this collection are a critical resource for researchers, historians, and genealogists, especially when secular records are spotty or lost,” said Brenton Simons, President and CEO of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The records within the bound volumes contain several sacraments of the Catholic Church, including baptism, confirmation, holy communion, marriage, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick.

Big Updates for New York

You can search a free index of New York City marriages, 1908-1929, at Internet Archive, thanks to a “Reclaim the Records” initiative. This is an index to an important set of records originally kept by the New York City Clerk’s Office: “the 1908-1929 application, affidavit, and license for a marriage, a…three-page document that is generally dated a few weeks before the actual marriage took place.” MyHeritage has also just added the New York City Marriage License Index 1908-1929.

Boston Catholic Records

You’re likely to spot some famous folks like Humphrey Bogart in this NYC Marriage License Index at MyHeritage!

New York City Marriage Announcements, 1833-1836 are available at Findmypast, with notices from two newspapers: The Sun and the New York Transcript.

Also new at Findmypast is an Image Browse collection of New York State Religious Records 1716-1914. The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society transcribed and published religious records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths from dozens of New York State churches of various denominations.

Back over at MyHeritage is a collection of New York Newspapers, 1806-2007 with nearly 2 million pages from various cities and towns throughout the state.

Lastly, the Troy Irish Genealogy Society has published Transcriptions from the St. Agnes Cemetery Tombstones in Menands, NY. From the description: “The inscriptions are overwhelmingly of Irish immigrants to the Capital District Region. While some inscriptions merely say “Ireland” a large number are more specific and identify the County in Ireland along with the name of the town and the name of the Parish.”

Additional United States Collections

Illinois. The State of Illinois has repaired and digitized 57 maps that the Illinois National Guard used during World War I. According to the description, “the maps feature the guard’s 33rd division, which was the only distinctly Illinois division that saw active service during the war in France.”

North Carolina. The State Archives of North Carolina has announced the launch of the Brimley Collection Online. Named for Herbert Hutchinson Brimley, the first leader of The North Carolina State Museum of Natural History, this collection of photographs from the late 19th and mid-20th century include people both common and renowned, scenes of cities and towns, rural landscapes and farms, agricultural activities and products, industrial concerns, and more.

Arkansas. More than 200 issues of the Commonwealth College Fortnightly are now searchable online. This newspaper ran from 1926 to 1938 and this digital collection provides a complete record of activity at Arkansas’ historic radical labor school.

Australia & New Zealand Databases

You have to love records that include photographs! Ancestry.com has a new collection for Queensland, Australia, World War I Soldier Portraits, 1914-1918. This unique collection comes from portraits taken at the soldier’s camp at Enoggera, Queensland and published in The Queenslander newspaper until the end of the war in 1918. 

A newly digitized archive for New South Wales is now available online. Prisoners in Pictures details the stories of nearly 50,000 prisoners incarcerated in New South Wales between 1870 and 1930. The prisoner stories are told through photography, text, an online catalog, and short films with interviews from archivists such as the one below:

https://youtu.be/QJmBRdEmXS0

In New Zealand, the Victoria University of Wellington has released a database of 12,000 imperial soldiers who fought in the New Zealand Land Wars of the 1860s. From the description: “The database provides searchable public access to the names, regiments, and dates of service of soldiers who fought in New Zealand. It is the first installment of what will grow into a larger publicly accessible resource.”

 

How to Find Your Family History in the 1950s

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.

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