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The polyester bow-tie blouses. The high-waisted pants. The corduroy jumpsuits?
In subscription site Ancestry.com’s
new database of Sears catalogs from 1896 to 1993, I couldn’t resist browsing the
early 1980s doorstoppers of my childhood. As a kid, I’d “shop,” choosing one item
per page, and use the toy sections to create impossibly optimistic Christmas lists.
But for genealogical purposes, you’ll probably want to look at catalogs further back
in time. Of course, you won’t find ancestors. But if your family farmed in the 1940s,
for example, you can keyword-search catalogs from that era for equipment they might’ve
used. If you fondly remember Grandma making cakes with her rotary egg beater, you
can learn when she might’ve bought it and see an illustration. This one cost 30 cents
in the Fall 1929 edition:
Need to date a photo? Search the catalog database for the dress style or an object
in the photo. I entered shirtwaist, and among the results was this illustration
from the Spring 1905 catalog:
Your searches find keywords in the catalogs’ product descriptions, so you may have
to experiment with search terms to find a drawing that matches what’s in your photograph.
blog suggests using the catalog pages to spark stories and reminisce with relatives—another
handy way to gather family clues.
You can learn about the history
of the Sears catalog, which began as a simple mailer in 1888 and has
been called one of the most-commonly read books in rural areas, on
the Sears website.