Friday, November 27, 2009

Advertising as a Family History Resource



Finding your ancestors is one thing.  Finding out how they lived their day to day lives is another thing entirely.

Some interesting and often overlooked resources for getting a sense of everyday life are the advertisements of a given time and place.  What did your great grandparents see when they opened a local newspaper or magazine, or rode a horse and buggy past an early billboard or an ad-painted barn? 

Mmmm. Ox-tail soup!  Everyone's favorite. 

Turns out, Duke University has a deep collection of early advertisements.  Several collections, actually:


  • AdAccess includes images of over 7,000 U.S. and Canadian advertisements covering five product categories - Beauty and Hygiene, Radio, Television, Transportation, and World War II propaganda - dated between 1911 and 1955.

  • AdViews contains thousands of early television commercials from the 1950's through the 1980's.
    Emergence of Advertising in America contains images of 9,000 advertising items and publications dating from 1850 to 1920.

    Protestant Images.  An odd collection of articles and advertising images of Protestant children and families in the U.S. from Protestant-supported or targeted magazines.

  • Medicine and Madison Avenue. Images of over 600 health-realted advertisements and historical documents dated between 1911 and 1958.

Some historical advertising sources worth exploring outside the Duke collection:

Adflip bills itself as the world's largest searchable database of classic print ads from 1940-2001.  It's a subscription site, but many of the ads can be viewed for free at medium resolution.

Ivory Project.  From the Smithsonian, 1,600 advertisements about soap, mostly Ivory Soap...1838-1998.  Imagaine that! 

HardToFindAds.  A motley assortment of print ads covering most of the 20th century.  Some good stuff, here, but I wish the ads all had dates and sources!

FullTable is one of the, ahem, more unusual sites you're likely to come across, but it has an intriguing collection of historical images, ads and otherwise.  Not really a site for research, this is more a place for some fascinating browsing.  It's worth a look!

Magazine-Ads.  1410 new and old ads in 108 catagories   Ads are for sale, but can be previewed online.


Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And you can't beat old newspapers for old ads, so don't forget to also check for your family history at Ancestry.com and NewspaperArchive.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


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