4 Must-Explore Ancestry.com Collections

Some Ancestry.com collections are super valuable but, for one reason or another, are easy to miss. You DON’T want to miss these four exclusive Ancestry.com collections that were hand-picked by an Ancestry staffer: landowner maps, iconic shopping catalog images, Prohibition-era identification cards and even WWII-era motion pictures.

4 Ancestry.com collections you don’t want to miss

Recently at RootsTech 2018, I compared historical record collections on the genealogy giants (Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com). An Ancestry.com staffer saw my lecture and emailed me with some of his favorite (and exclusive) Ancestry.com collections that don’t appear among your ‘shaky leaf’ hints, so they’re easy to miss. The descriptions below come from him or the site, and I’ve added some sample images–including a map showing the location of my great-great grandfather’s land.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalogs, 1896-1993

“Do you know what your great-grandparents would have worn? What would they have wanted for Christmas? Get an idea by looking at the Sears Catalog through the years. The original 1888 mailer carrying watches and jewelry expanded into a catalog in 1894 that kept growing offering an ever-widening range of products: sewing machines, sporting goods, musical instruments, saddles, firearms, buggies, bicycles, baby carriages, and clothing. In the late 1800s the catalog began carrying Christmas holiday items leading to its eventual status as the “Wish Book.”

Other interesting facts about the Sears and Roebuck Catalog include some of the people who were involved in the making of it. Big name 40s and 50s film stars Lauren Bacall and Susan Hayward model fashions in pages of the catalog. Also featured are Ted Williams, a major baseball player in the 40s; Al Unser, a race car driver; and Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy.”

If your ancestor was a member of a fraternal organization such as the Freemasons or the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, you may be able to find pictures of pins created for their organizations. Music history in America also credits Sears catalog with changing American lifestyle because of the inexpensive but quality musical instruments offered through mail order.”

Prohibition agent identification cards, 1920-1925

“With the enactment of the Volstead Act in 1920, Prohibition agents were called upon to do the often unpopular work of enforcing the law, which included shutting down speakeasies and stills and interrupting the trafficking of bootleg alcoholic beverages. This collection contains identification card files for prohibition agents, prohibition inspectors, prohibition directors, warehouse agents, narcotics agents, and narcotics inspectors in the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s Prohibition Unit.”

County Land Ownership Maps (US), 1860-1918

“Land ownership maps are portrayals of land purchased, granted, or inherited. They range in complexity from rough outlines of the boundaries of one tract of land to detailed county atlases showing every landowner at the time of compilation.

These maps are valuable to genealogists because they often contain the names of landowners, they predate topographic maps, they show important historical township and county boundaries [and] can include photos of county officers, landholders, and some buildings and homes. This database contains approximately 1,200 U.S. county land ownership atlases from the Library of Congress’ Geography and Maps division, covering the years 1860-1918…These maps can be searched by state, county, year and owner’s name.”

Note from Sunny: This collection has proven valuable to me because it helped me locate my great-great grandfather’s property on a Pennsylvania map. Shown here!

WWII Newsreels, 1942-1946

“Newsreels averaged 10 minutes in length and consisted of U.S. military footage depicting allied military operations and other events from the home front. Much of the footage was taken by military combat photographers and is in excellent condition.

This database contains all 267 issues of the ‘United News’ newsreels. Some of the more well-known WWII events depicted in these newsreels includes: Marines Raise Flag Over Iwo Jima, D-Day, Japanese Sign Final Surrender, Invasion of Sicily, and MacArthur Returns to the Philippines.

Note from Sunny: Search this database using keywords relating to your family, such as places, military units or a descriptive term such as engineer. The sample footage shown here, “Yanks help repair French railroad” appears in this Ancestry.com collection. (For ease of display on our site, we’re showing you the same footage from YouTube.)

Learn more about the genealogy giants

Learn more about what’s on Ancestry.com and the other genealogy giants, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com). I specialize in comparing these sites to each other so you’ll know where to turn to meet your research needs. Click here to read more about the genealogy giants and to see my exclusive quick reference guide, Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites. It’s arguably the smartest investment you can make before investing time and subscription dollars in the major genealogy websites.

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!

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

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