Genealogy Clues in’s Sears Catalog Database

By Diane Haddad

The polyester bow-tie blouses. The high-waisted pants. The corduroy jumpsuits?

In subscription site’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.

The 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.