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Magazines Provide a Time Capsule for Your Ancestors

Magazines Provide a Time Capsule for Your Ancestors

I’m a huge fan of magazines. When I go to a bookstore they are the first thing I look for. I enjoy flipping through all varieties of magazines whether they focus on genealogy, history or technology and crafts. Why? Magazines provide resources and ideas that I find valuable whether it be for my research or personal life.

Magazines also are a great window into a specific place in time. Current affairs magazines reflect what’s happening in the world in regards to news, arts, and science. Similarly, magazines published in earlier generations provide a glimpse of what was happening in their world, what was important to our ancestors, and what goods, medicines, and services they had access to. 

Popular Mechanics Magazine

Magazines are the descendent of other print publications such as books, broadsides, and pamphlets. The first magazine was published in 1663 by German theologian and poet, Johann Rist. In the United States, magazine publishing predates the Revolutionary War. American Magazine premiered in 1741 and days later Benjamin Franklin published General Magazine. Those two magazines didn’t last a year but they would lead the way for other American magazines. [1]

In the 19th century magazines became more affordable and more widely read. “At first these magazines emphasized features that promoted improvement, enlightenment, and family entertainment, but towards the end of the century, they evolved into popular versions that aimed at providing amusements.” [2]

Classified Advertisements

Historic magazines provide us a glimpse of our ancestor’s world. Even though they most likely do not name our ancestors (unless they were an author, the focus of an article, sold something through advertisements) but they provide us a glimpse of the social history of the time. It’s through the articles, illustrations, and advertisements that we learn what our ancestors wore, ate, read for entertainment, and perhaps bought.

Finding Magazines Online

So where do you find historical magazines online? Digitized book websites are a great place to search. Search favorites such as Google Books, Hathi Trust, and Internet Archive.

Some examples of what can be found on these digitized books websites include:

Google Books

Hathi Trust

Internet Archive has a specific collection of magazines called The Magazine Rack with over 210,000 results (though not all magazines are part of this collection). Some magazines you might find of interest include:

There are online resources to find vintage magazines. Websites to consider include:

Other online places to find digitized vintage magazines include genealogy subscription websites, public and academic library subscription websites, and ebay. Consider reading vintage magazines to get a sense of your ancestor's lives and take note of the images that might help tell your ancestor's story.


[1] “Magazine Publishing,” Encyclopedia Britannica ( accessed 18 February 2021).

[2] Ibid.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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Thank you very much for recommending my site, Century Past Library. The older magazines, from the 1800s and early 1900s, can all be found on this page: There's a magazine category menu there to help you find all 350 magazine titles, on 8 webpages.

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