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A Few of My Favorite Social History Websites

The context that social history provides can help your family history become more interesting to the non-genealogists in your family. The following are a list of just a few of the social history websites you can find on the Internet.


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I love adding social history details to my genealogy. The context that social history provides can help your family history become more interesting to the non-genealogists in your family. The following are a list of just a few of the social history websites you can find on the Internet. You may want to bookmark these for ideas and information about life as your ancestors knew it.

This wiki, the Vintage Patterns Wiki, allows anyone to edit and add information about vintage sewing patterns. You can browse the patterns by the type of garment or by the decade, starting with the 1920s and extending into the 1970s. While today sewing clothes for one's family is not as prevalent due to the abundance of discount stores, it wasn't too long ago that women sewed the clothes for their family as a way to clothe them while still staying on budget. These images of clothing can be helpful to learn more not only about what our ancestors wore but to assist in dating photographs.

Retronaut is an English website that has image collections from the 1800s to present day. Some of my favorites include The Invisible Mother (19th century photos of children where their mother is hiding behind a drape or a rug to help keep them still), Kindergarten, St. Louis 1905, Child Oyster Shuckers, 1910 (a dangerous job held by children at the turn of the 20th century) and Suffragette Surveillance, (make sure to look through these photos of English Suffragettes and the explanation about why these photos were taken).

These images tell the story of our ancestor's history and are important in understanding a different time period. As with any collection of images there might be a few that some readers may find objectionable.

The Workhouse is a website that you can learn more about what life was like in a UK workhouse. All aspects of life for those unfortunate enough to be poor is described here, including the food they ate and the education the children received. This comprehensive site is a must for anyone wanting to know more about these institutions.

The Ephemera Society of America is a membership organization but there are free articles on their website that can help you enhance your idea of what home sources might include. In case you have never heard of the word "ephemera" it is used to describe mostly paper items that were never meant to be archived. These items can include greeting cards, photographs, postcards, valentines, posters and other items of genealogical value.

The New York Public Library Menu Collection. What did our families eat at restaurants? This menu collection is just one of such collections found in the United States that gives us a look at restaurants through time. Peruse it for ideas of not only foods that were available but the prices your family would have paid to go out to eat.

One item that many people relied on in the late 19th century to the early to mid-20th century was the Sears Catalog. These catalogs allowed rural families to order what they needed, especially when those items weren't available in their town. While today it is hard to imagine how important a catalog could be, it's important to remember that the Sears catalog allowed people to buy everything from clothing to furnishings, to even a house. Several websites provide access to images of these catalogs including the Wishbook Web which includes the Sears Christmas catalog from 1933 to 1988. has a database entitled Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck and Co., 1896-1993. Internet Archive includes digitized copies of Sears catalogs including one from 1912 and a 1902 special catalog of just monumental markers and tombstones. (Other Sears' ephemera on Internet Archive can be found here. A timeline for the catalog can be found on the Sears Archive website.

As you research your ancestor, consider the time period they lived in and what life might have been like. Then go searching for information about that time period and place to get a better understanding of life was in their time.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2012.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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