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.

Join Lisa at GeneaQuest 2018 in Illinois

Lisa Louise Cooke will be at CAGGNI’s GeneaQuest 2018 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on Saturday, June 23. Join her and other expert presenters all day to learn Google strategies for genealogy, a master plan for organizing your research, DNA solutions, brick-wall...

We Dig These Gems: New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gemsEvery Friday, we highlight new genealogy records online. Scan these posts for content that may include your ancestors. Use these records to inspire your search for similar records elsewhere. Always check 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: European and U.S. Jewish records; Mexico civil registrations; New York City vital records and New York state censuses and naturalizations.

JEWISH RECORDS. In the first quarter of 2015, nearly 70,000 records have been added to databases at JewishGen.org. These are free  to search and include records from Poland (for the towns of Danzig, Lwow, Lublin, Sidelce, Volhynia and Krakow); Lithuania (vital records, passports,  revision lists and tax records); the United Kingdom (the Jews’ Free School Admission Register, Spitalfields, 1856-1907) and the United States (obituaries for Boston and Cleveland).

MEXICO CIVIL REGISTRATIONS. More than 400,000 indexed records have been added to civil registrations for the state of Luis Potosi, Mexico. Records include “births, marriages, deaths, indexes and other records created by civil registration offices” and are searchable for free at FamilySearch.

NEW YORK CITY VITAL RECORDS. Indexes to New York City births (1878-1909), marriages (1866-1937) and deaths (1862-1948) are new and free for everyone to search on Ancestry. Click here to reach a New York research page on Ancestry that links to these indexes.

NEW YORK STATE CENSUSES AND NATURALIZATIONS. The New York state censuses for 1855 and 1875 (for most counties) are now available online to subscribers at Ancestry. According to the census collection description, “The state took a census every ten years from 1825 through 1875, another in 1892, and then every ten years again from 1905 to 1925. State censuses like these are useful because they fall in between federal census years and provide an interim look at a population.” New York naturalization records (1799-1847) and intents to naturalize (or “first papers,” 1825-1871) are also available online.

NEW ZEALAND PROBATE RECORDS. Nearly 800,000 images from Archives New Zealand (1843-1998) have been added to an existing FamilySearch collection (which is at least partly indexed). Privacy restrictions apply to probates issued during the past 50 years. These records contain names of testator, witnesses and heirs; death and record date; occupation; guardians and executor; relationships; residences and an estate inventory.

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Google tip of the week: Some genealogical records and indexes are created on a city or municipal level rather than–or  in addition to–a county, province or state level. When Google searching for vital and other records like burials and city directories, include the name of a city in your searches. Learn more about Googling your genealogy in Lisa Louise Cooke’s The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. The 2nd edition, newly published in 2015, is fully revised and updated with the best Google has to offer–which is a LOT.

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!

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