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.

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

Every Friday, we post highlights of fabulous new genealogy records online. Scan these weekly posts for content that may include your ancestors. Use these record types to inspire your own search for similar records elsewhere. And always check out our Google tips at the end of each list: they are custom-crafted each week to give YOU one more tool in your genealogy toolbox.

This week we highlight lots of British records and the WWI era:

UK SCHOOL RECORDS. FindMyPast has posted two new datasets on this topic. British School & University Memorial Rolls, 1914-1918 includes over 58,500 students from prominent UK universities who fought in World War I. And nearly 2 million names have been added to the UK National School Admission Registers & Log-Books, 1870-1914. These cover students in England and Wales, 1870 to 1914. FindMyPast says, “Explore their school records to find their birth date, admission year and the school they attended. You may also be able to discover their parents’ names, father’s occupation, exam results and any illnesses that led to absence from school.”

UK TAX RECORDS. About 10 million records and more than a half million images have been added to England, Westminster Rate Books, 1634–1900 at FamilySearch. According to the site, “This collection contains rate books from various parishes in Westminster City from 1634-1900. The rate books were an assessment of tax that was owed and are an excellent census substitute.” The index comes from FindMyPast, where subscribers can also search this collection.

UK WWI SERVICE RECORDS. Over 4 million records have been added to United Kingdom, World War I Service Records, 1914–1920. “This collection contains World War I service records from 1914-1920,” says the collection description. “It contains records from two publications in the National Archives: WO 363 (War Office: Soldiers’ Documents, First World War “Burnt Documents”) and WO 364 (War Office: Documents from Pension Claims, First World War).”

Google owns YouTube, the world’s most popular online video channel. More and more historical footage is being posted on YouTube, from amateur home movies to rare news footage and more. The search box is your best tool for finding footage of events, places and people, including World War I and II events. Conduct a search with the keywords that best describe what you’re looking for. After that initial search, the Filters button will appear: click the down arrow to reveal more search options and options to sort search results. Click here to see rare video footage I found on YouTube that made my jaw drop–it’s my husband’s great-grandfather, his fire truck and his dog.

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 241

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke

May 2020

In this episode you’ll hear about the change to Google search results, how to reunite found items with their families, and 10 strategies for finding school records for your ancestors. 

Download the episode mp3

Watch Elevenses with Lisa live on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel on Thursdays at 11:00 AM Central. After the live show you can watch the video replay at your convenience. You’ll find the show notes for Elevenses with Lisa here on the Genealogy Gems website.

Google Search Update

Watch Episode 6 which features the latest on Google search results.

New Google Message: No good results

New Google Message: “No good results.”

MAILBOX: Reuniting Family History

A while back I received an email from Tim. He writes:

“I’m getting back into genealogy in a meaningful way now that my dissertation is done and I realized that I don’t know what to do with all the ‘stuff’ I’ve taken photos of, picked up at yard sales, etc., that could be of genealogical value to someone but not me.  I’ve got yearbooks, pictures of the genealogy information inside family bibles, etc.  I used to be able to scan and submit to Mocavo for the world to use but that’s gone.  With the Rootsweb mailing lists shutting down, do you have recommendations for where I can submit these things so they benefit others?”

From Lisa:

As a matter of I do have a few recommendations for you!

These days a free blog is your own genealogy bulletin board with much greater reach than Rootsweb had. It’s a great way to get the word out about items that you have that you would like to reunite with their families.

Blogger.com (Google’s free blogging platform) is a good choice.

Video tutorials on how to set up a Blogger blog at my YouTube channel.

Also, listen to Episodes 37-40 of my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast

New England genealogy

Free podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa’s Tips for getting your blog posts:

  • One blog post per item
  • In addition to a photo, include as much text as you can that describes the item.
  • Tag the items with surnames, record types, and locations.
  • Encourage people to email you or leave a comment to get in touch.

 

Interview with Carly Kidd-Osborn

If you have an item that you picked up along your genealogical travels that belongs to someone else’s family history, the Shrubs to Trees – A Pay-It-Forward Genealogy Facebook Group can help. Caryl Kidd-Osborn is the Administrator, and in this episode she explains how the group has helped return over 1500 items to families and how you can enlist their help.

Shrubs to Trees – A Pay-It-Forward Genealogy Facebook Group

From Caryl:  “We are almost 2 years old and in that time we have returned over 1500 “lost” memorabilia items to living family. We’ve given back photos, bronze baby shoes, sheet music that was written by someone’s family member, a marriage license and even someone’s cremains. We aren’t a very big group but we have some wonderful folks who just jump right in with researching the items. It’s a private group since we are dealing with living people. It’s very much a collaboration. Our members are genealogists who, like me, just can’t leave an antique store without taking someone else’s family home with them!”

Here are just a few examples of the precious items that the group has managed to return to grateful families:

Reunited - baby shoes

Reunited: Little Renee’s baby shoes

 

baby picture reunited with family

Reunited: A photo of Frances Payne. “Our cutest return,” says Caryl.

 

Reunited marriage certificate

Reunited: Andrew Johney and Maggie Bosley marriage license. This was found at a dump.

 

Reunited photo

Sarah Fooks Tutherly – photo went to the Historical Society in Laurel, DE. The Fooks family was a prominent family in that town, she was a DAR member.

 

Reunited Vandermaas family

Reunited: The Vandermaas family. The parents had died before the children were of that age so this is a composite of the whole family.

 

GEM: Top 10 Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy

Click here for the complete article on strategies for finding school records.

10 strategies for finding school records

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Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 244 – Ancestry Search Tips

Podcast host: Lisa Louise Cooke
August
 2020

Everyone is spending a lot more time at home and online. That means it’s the perfect time to dig into Ancestry.com and talk about strategies that you can use to get the most out of it.

Today’s show comes from my Elevenses with Lisa YouTube Live show. Many podcast listeners have told me they hadn’t really thought about sitting down to watch YouTube videos. And my video viewers say the same thing about listening to audio podcasts. However, when they venture out, they find they really appreciate what each has to offer.

Podcasts let you exercise, work around the house and generally be pretty active even while you’re listening and learning. The live YouTube show is a chance to take a mid-week break, enjoy a cup of tea, watch the show and even chat with other genealogists in the show Chat. The video replays are great in the evening when there’s nothing to watch on TV.

They work together. You can watch the video first and enjoy the show’s community. Then you can listen again later to pick up what you may have missed or sit down to your computer to give the techniques a try.

My goal is that you’re going to learn something new that’s going to help you achieve greater success in your genealogy! Click the player below to listen to the podcast:

Ancestry Search Strategies and Tips

Watch the video and read the full show notes here.

Genealogy Gems Premium Members can download the show notes PDF from the Resources section on that page.

 

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Profile America: On a Roll – The History of Toilet Paper

Sunday, August 23rd.
Often unmentionable and little regarded, a 130 year old American invention enjoyed—if that’s the word—considerable attention earlier this year.

In 1890, toilet paper on a dispensing roll was patented by the founders of today’s Scott Brand of paper products.

Toilet paper itself dates back about 1,500 years to China, but didn’t develop until the mid-19th Century. Some perforated and medicated versions were available in America before the Scott product, but weren’t successful.

In spite of demand-driven shortages, America is on a roll when it comes to stocking this species of sanitary paper.

Nationwide, there are 132 establishments producing sanitary paper products. These operations employ over 17,000 people in the $13-billion enterprise.

toilet paper patent

Toilet Paper Patent Application from 1889

Sources:

 

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Getting Your Family History Digitized

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This episode is Dedicated to Howie

We adopted Howie in 2005, and soon after in early 2007 I started this podcast. Howie took his place at my feet, and he’s been there for every recording. He’s been my silent podcasting partner and he will be missed beyond words. 

How the Wonder Dog

 

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