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!

New year, new records for genealogy!

Kick off 2018 with a diverse group of new genealogy records to explore online this week! Included are historical and vital records for British genealogy, Irish newspapers, Scottish records, and Palestine naturalization applications.

new genealogy records for 2018new genealogy records for 2018

British Historical & Vital Records

Lots of new genealogy records are available for England this week at Findmypast! Start with Britain, Histories & Reference Guides, which contains more than 65 volumes about genealogy, heraldry, paleography, geography, and more. These volumes will expand your knowledge about your ancestor’s life and how your ancestors lived through the centuries.

Next, if you’ve got ancestors in Greater Manchester, you’ll want to explore Greater Manchester Burials 1570-1990 and Greater Manchester Marriages 1570-1936. Both collections pertain to the historic county of Lancashire and contain names, dates, and transcripts of the original registers. These collections both come from FamilySearch.

Finally, Northamptonshire Memorial Inscriptions may reveal your ancestor’s death date, burial place, as well as the names of other family members for your family tree. This collection includes 17 cemeteries, churchyards, and other places, and the records span from 1422 to 2015.

Irish Newspapers

The Church of Ireland’s record repository, Representative Church Body Library (RCBL), has announced that all 19th-century editions of the Church of Ireland Gazette have been added to the online archive of the weekly newspaper. The full archive is free to the public and covers years 1856 – 1923.

The British Newspaper Archive has added the Dublin Evening Telegraph to their collection of historic newspapers recently. This paper spanned 1871-1924, and this collection has over 12,000 issues available online.

Scottish Records

Recently added to Ancestry.com are Carnegie Music Institution Registers, 1910-1920 from Dunfermline, Fife. This school was founded through a trust set up by Andrew Carnegie, and school records include names, year and term of attendance, resident, and subject studied.

Additional news for Scottish research comes from the University of Virginia School of Law.
30 years after they acquired a trove of legal documents from Scotland’s Court of Session, the supreme legal court there, the Law School’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library is building a digital archive and reaching out to partners “across the pond” to open these legal history materials to scholars and the public. According to the press release, the library is planning to release the first batch of documents online soon. When completed, users will be able to search through a single document or the entire collection, peruse the rich data provided for each case, and download documents for free.

Palestine Naturalization Applications

A fascinating new collection at MyHeritage is the Mandatory Palestine Naturalization Applications, 1937-1947. From the collection description: “This collection is a unique and rich compilation of records documenting the efforts of individuals, mostly Jews, and sometimes their entire families, to establish citizenship in Mandatory Palestine, which was under British administration at the time. The collection contains photos, histories, passports, and other various forms providing details for each applicant.”

Let 2018 be your year to break down brick walls!

Has your family history research hit a brick wall? Marsha Hoffman Rising’s best-selling and recently updated book The Family Tree Problem Solver has the solutions to help you find the answers you seek. Get tips on finding vital records before civil registration, finding “missing” ancestors on censuses, advanced court records, workarounds for lost or destroyed records, common names, case studies, and more! This revised edition also includes new information about online research techniques and a look at the role of DNA research. Click here to order now!

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Search the SSDI for Your Family History

Are you tracing the family history of someone who lived in the U.S. during the 20th century? Check out a wonderful free database in the United States called the Social SSDI SearchSecurity Death Index, or the SSDI. Keep reading for 5 FREE online sources for the SSDI, 7 tips for searching the SSDI and what you can do with SSDI info.

In 1935 the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt, and consequently more than thirty million Americans were registered by 1937. Today, the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration contains over 89 million records of deaths that have been reported to the Social Security Administration and they are publicly available online.

Most of the information included in the index dates from 1962, although some data is from as early as 1937. This is because the Social Security Administration began to use a computer database for processing requests for benefits in 1962. Many of the earlier records back to 1937 have not been added.

The SSDI does not have a death record for everyone; and occasionally you may find an error here and there if something was reported inaccurately, but overall it’s a terrific resource! It’s especially great for many people who were missed in the 1890 census or whose birth predated vital records registration in their home state. Remember they just needed to live past 1937 and to have worked to have been included. So they could have been born sometime in the later 1800s.

5 FREE Online Sources for the SSDI

Several genealogy websites provide free access to the SSDI, including (click to go right to the SSDI at these sites):

On the Search page, enter your relative’s name and other details you’re asked for. Hopefully you will get back results that includes your relative!

7 Tips for Searching the SSDI

If  your relative doesn’t show up in the SSDI, even though you know they worked after 1937 and you know they have passed away, try these search tips:

1. Does the website you are using to search the SSDI have the most current version available? Look in the database description on the site to see how recently it was updated. Try searching at other sites.

2. Make sure that you tried alternate spellings for their name. You never know how it might have been typed into the SSDI database.

3. Many SSDI indexes allow you to use wildcards in your search. So for example you could type in “Pat*” which would pull up any name that has the first three letters as PAT such as Patrick, Patricia, etc.

4. Try using less information in your search. Maybe one of the details you’ve been including is different in the SSDI database. For example it may ask for state and you enter California because that’s where grandpa died, when they were looking for Oklahoma because that’s where he first applied for his social security card. By leaving off the state you’ll get more results. Or leave off the birth year because even though you know it’s correct, it may have been recorded incorrectly in the SSDI and therefore it’s preventing your ancestor from appearing in the search results.

5. Leave out the middle name because middle names are not usually included in the database. However, if you don’t have luck with their given name, try searching the middle name as their given name. In the case of my grandfather his given name was Robert but he went by the initial J.B. But in the SSDI his name is spelled out as JAY BEE!

6. Remember that married women will most likely be listed under their married surname, not their maiden name. But if you strike out with the married name, go ahead and give the maiden a try. She may have applied for her card when single, and never bothered to update the Administration’s records. Or if she was married more than once, check all her married names for the same reason.

7. Don’t include the zip code if there is a search field for it because zip codes did not appear in earlier records.

While most folks will appear in the SSDI, there are those who just won’t. But knowing where information is not located can be as important down the road in your research as knowing where it IS located, so I recommend making a note in your database that you did search the SSDI with no result. This will save you from duplicating the effort down the road because you forgot that you looked there.

What You Can Do with SSDI Information

Now, here comes the most exciting part of the SSDI: what you can do with that information. First, it usually includes a death date (at least the month and year) and sometimes a state and last known residence. Use this information to look for death records, obituaries, cemetery and funeral records. And use that Social Security Number to order a copy of your relative’s application for that number: the SS-5. Click here to read more about the SS-5 and how to order it.

Up next, read:

Get Started: How to Find Your Family History for Free

7 Great Ways to Use Your iPad for Family History

How to Find Your Family Tree Online

Best Genealogy Software

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