Most family history researchers, I believe, search databases mainly by using names of ancestors. If you’ve never taken the time to browse collections on major genealogical websites, then you are missing lots of interesting databases.
Today, the focus is on Ancestry. Yes, a subscription is needed, but you can access these databases using the Library Edition at your local public library or family history center.
The first collection is the Sears, Roebuck catalogs from 1896-1993. If you want to know which items were in vogue or what prices were at the beginning of the 20th century, the Sears Roebuck catalog will give you a good idea.
Americans were starting to have some leisure time in their lives and had a bit of pocket money for treats. If Mom was going to e doing lots of baking and needed chocolate, she might order it from the catalog. Here’s the cover of the 1896 spring catalog:
This was the first big mail order business in the United States. There were so many rural communities where only the basics were on hand in the local mercantile, that ordering by mail was a natural step.
What items were available? Well, there are 615 pages of images for that catalog, so there were thousands! One was chocolate:
Baker’s Premium Chocolate and Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate, still found on grocery shelves today, was in the catalog and 12 lb. boxes were offered. I have to wonder if several women in the neighborhood went in together to purchase a 12 lb. box!
The 1903 catalog had an interesting suggestion for making money:
Did the graphophone ever catch on? It sure did, as it was an enhanced version of the phonograph, invented at Volta Laboratory, which was owned by Alexander Graham Bell. Here was an opportunity to be the first on your block to own this new-fangled invention!
By the Roaring 20s, lots of women dressed in the style of flappers. How much did those dresses cost?
$1.98 doesn’t seem too dear, but $9.99 (or about $130 in today’s money) at the time was too expensive for many ladies.
To browse this collection, google Ancestry Sears Roebuck catalog and a link should come up. Click on it to go to the website and have fun browsing!
The Sears Archives is another source for information about Sears and its products.
There is a second fun collection not readily uncovered on Ancestry, that of vintage postcards in a collection titled U.S., Historical Postcards.
The database is searchable by place. I tried Calais, Maine and 15 postcards are in this collection. Here is a sample:
I am actually a bit surprised because some of them, like the one of the International Motel, are clearly from the latter part of the 20th century. I have no idea if any are under copyright, so I would suggest not publishing any of them without checking. Saving to your own computer for personal use would be fine.
There are 115,000+ historical postcards in the database and what is really neat is that you search by location, key word, caption and postcard era:
To search by a span of years, click the arrow to the right of “Postcard Era.” A drop down menu will open. You can choose both span of years in an era or by type of photo. The drop down menu seems to show that this collection is slightly misnamed as it appears some of the images are photographs, not postcards.
If you read my blog regularly, you know that I am a big fan of vintage postcards. Sometimes, they are the only online option to show an ancestral home town in a given time period. They are fabulous for understanding what “home” looked like at that time.
If you haven’t ever taken the time to browse Ancestry’s collection, now is the time to try it out.
Just click on the Search icon at the top of Ancestry’s home page, scroll down to Card Catalog and search away. You never know what buried treasure you might find.