This Is the House That Sears Built: Historic Sears Kit Homes

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to learn about a building proposition our ancestors knew well: prefabricated home kits sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co.

How did you buy your last home? Was it an older home that you purchased from a family who had spent years making it their own? Did you buy it brand new, built to your specifications? Maybe because of the economic downturn in the last few years you picked up a foreclosure.

While these are the ways we purchase homes now, there was a time when you could order your home as a kit from Sears! Yes, that will surprise many people who, when they think of an old Sears, Roebuck and Co. ad, have something like this 1925 full-page newspaper advertisement in mind.

full-page ad from Sears, Roebuck and Co., Dallas Morning News newspaper advertisement 27 September 1925

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 September 1925, page 9

Sears, the retailer of clothing, household items, and Craftsman tools—selling home kits? Yes, and they weren’t the only retailer who offered build-your-own homes to consumers. While today we often associate Sears with the catalog which began in the 1890s, in the past your family may have bought a lot more than tools, furniture, and clothes at Sears. They may have bought a new prefabricated home delivered by train!

In a 1932 publication, Sears boasted that they were the “biggest home building organization on earth.”* According to the Sears Archives, between “1908-1940 Sears, Roebuck, and Co., sold about 70,000-75,000 homes through their mail-order Modern Homes program.” Customers could also purchase garages, farm buildings and—for those purchasing small cottages—an outhouse. The Modern Home program catalog offered consumers a range of homes from the palatial to the very simple. These Sears homes were like the Ford of their times, mass produced and shipped with everything, or almost everything, the would-be home builder needed. Because of the way the Sears houses were produced, the building and construction materials were less expensive resulting in a more inexpensive home for the buyer.

In this full-page 1926 newspaper advertisement, we not only learn more about the Sears Homes and what is offered, but we are provided a glimpse into how the homeowner can put together their home kit and reduce the costs.

full-page ad for prefabricated homes from Sears, Roebuck and Co., Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 31 October 1926

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 31 October 1926, page 19

Innovations, such as numbering the materials to correspond with the plans, helped simplify the building process. Homes are touted as being built on the “skyscraper principle.” The Sears Archives website writes that “balloon style” framing, drywall and asphalt shingles allowed for these homes to be built relatively easier and quicker. What’s interesting is that the addition of drywall and asphalt shingles also had the added bonus of being fire resistant.

ad for prefabricated homes from Sears, Roebuck and Co., Plain Dealer newspaper advertisement 20 September 1927

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 20 September 1927, page 8

A similar historical newspaper advertisement from 1927 explains to readers that they are furnished with “free architectural service” and everything one would need “except masonry, for a complete home.” Not only that but Sears also offered, until 1933 when the program was discontinued, to lend money with a “small interest charge” so that you could afford your new Sears home. One promotional piece boasted that you could own a home for low monthly prices, just like rent.**

In 1982 this Texas newspaper “asked readers to tell us about Sears homes in Texas,” made from home kits that were described in the Sears 1908 catalog as “the greatest building proposition ever made.”

Sears Originals: Catalog Homes That Readers Have Known and Still Love, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 27 February 1982

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 27 February 1982, page 54

More than 30 readers responded, with stories about how much they loved their Sears homes. One satisfied Sears homeowner, Edith Sides of Dallas, lived in a home that was built in 1911 and sold to her stepfather in 1917. The family has owned the Sears kit house ever since. Edith, 74, told the newspaper:

You know how many times I’ve watched “Gone with the Wind”? Six times. And I always remember what Scarlett’s father told her: Keep the land. I have. And you know what? I think my house compares favorably with Tara.

Did someone on your family tree own a Sears kit home? Check historical newspapers (for the year that home was available) to find advertisements highlighting your ancestor’s style of home. You can also look for the exact home specifications from the Sears Archives website. Several books are available that are reprints of early Sears home catalogs and histories. Check out Google Books for titles and previews. You might also be interested in the book, The Houses That Sears Built: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Sears Catalog Homes, by Rosemary Thornton.

Have questions about a Sears home? Sears Homes Enthusiasts are available to answer questions about these homes. You can find a list of them and their interests on the Sears Archives website.

______________

*Sears House Designs of the Thirties. Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Dover Publications 2003. pg. 2.

**Sears House Designs of the Thirties. Sears, Roebuck, and Co. Dover Publications 2003. pg. 5.

How to Find Georgia Marriage Records

It is easy to find copies of your Georgia ancestors’ marriage certificates and records using two basic online genealogy tools: GenealogyBank.com and FamilySearch.org. If your ancestors lived in Georgia, let’s see how we can find information about them.

marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton found using FamilySearch's Georgia marriage records

Marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton found using FamilySearch’s Georgia marriage records. Credit: FamilySearch.

FamilySearch.org has put Georgia marriage records from 1785 to 1950 online.

You may search for these old marriage records online here: https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1927197

A typical search will produce a marriage certificate like this one for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton.

marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton

Marriage certificate for Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton. Credit: FamilySearch.

Image Credit: “Georgia, County Marriages, 1785-1950,” index and images, FamilySearch: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/KXVC-7NK Accessed 19 March 2013, Walter B. Dense and Mamie T. Thornton, 1879.

This historical marriage certificate tells us that they were married by the Rev. Walker Lewis on 10 September 1879 in Bibb County, Georgia.

Marriage certificates can be brief and to the point. As genealogists we are thrilled to have them and to look at them—but we want to know more about the couple and their wedding.

Newspapers can give us even more details on the lives of our ancestors.

Let’s start searching the marriage records that were published in Georgia newspapers.

Let’s strategize this search.

In this case the groom’s surname, Dense, is a common word—but the surname itself is not very common. The word “dense” could possibly appear in a marriage announcement, but it is not likely to come up except as a surname.

By searching on the “Georgia Marriage Records” page in GenealogyBank I can focus my search results to bring up just marriage announcements that were printed in Georgia newspapers.

GenealogyBank search page for Georgia Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements

GenealogyBank search page for Georgia Marriage Records & Engagement Announcements

Search Georgia marriage records at GenealogyBank here: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/newspapers/explore/USA/Georgia/?type=marriage_engagement

GenealogyBank search box and search results page for Dense wedding

GenealogyBank search box and search results page for Dense wedding

That worked: their wedding announcement was the first of ten search results.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

The historical newspaper article is giving us a lot more detail about the wedding then the basic facts recorded on the marriage certificate—so many details that we can almost picture the wedding in our minds.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

  • For example, we learn that the couple was married at the First Methodist Church in Macon, Georgia.
  • The church, “crowded to its utmost capacity,” was “tastefully decorated with evergreens” at half past eight in the evening when the wedding began.
  • The old newspaper article named the members of the wedding party and chief guests.
  • The Rev. Walker Lewis performed the wedding ceremony “in a clear and distinct manner.”
  • At the end of the ceremony “Professor Coley played the wedding march.”

Think about it—the details, the setting…picture the wedding scene in your mind.

The end of the old newspaper marriage announcement gives us even more details about the family and their occupations, and describes the reception and supper that followed at the bride’s father’s (Reuben Thornton) home on Second Street.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

Details about special life events like this are only found in historical newspapers.

These are two great genealogy resources for finding your Georgia marriage records: the certificates on FamilySearch, and the newspaper marriage announcements in GenealogyBank with the details about the couple and the wedding.

Oh, the newspaper editor added one more comment about this wedding.

Marriage in First Street Methodist Church, Macon Daily Telegraph newspaper article 16 September 1879, page 4

Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia), 16 September 1879, page 4

The editor had described the packed church and the beautiful wedding and added “At the close Professor Coley played the wedding march, and the dense audience dispersed.”

It’s great to not only learn about the details of our ancestors’ lives and weddings— it’s also fun to see the wry humor of the times.

It’s a great day for genealogy!

23 Million Newspaper Records for all 50 U.S. States Just Added!

Did you realize that every day GenealogyBank adds more records from over 3,000 newspapers from all 50 states? Our archivists and digital experts are gathering and digitizing more of America’s newspapers and putting them online continuously.

In the past month alone we added over 23 million newspaper records—that is more than 5 million records every week!

Here is a glimpse of just some of the new newspaper content that has recently been added to GenealogyBank. Since we can’t list all 3,000 newspapers here, we have selected a representative sample to give you a sense of GenealogyBank’s dynamic growth. Dig into our rapidly expanding newspaper archives and uncover your family history now!

Newspapers marked with an asterisk (*) are new to GenealogyBank.

State City Newspapers

Date Range

Collection

Alaska Anchorage Anchorage Daily News

1/2/1971–12/30/1972

Newspaper Archives

California San Diego Evening Tribune

9/2/1912–9/29/1936

Newspaper Archives

California San Diego San Diego Union

4/20/1881–12/23/1930

Newspaper Archives

California San Francisco Bay Citizen, The*

06/01/2010–Current

Recent Obituaries

Colorado Denver Denver Post

7/4/1903–5/22/1917

Newspaper Archives

Colorado Denver Denver Rocky Mountain News

11/30/1890–10/1/1898

Newspaper Archives

Colorado Golden Arvada Press*

08/30/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Colorado Golden Golden Transcript*

06/07/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Colorado Golden Wheat Ridge Transcript*

05/12/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Colorado Lakewood Lakewood Sentinel*

05/18/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Colorado Thornton Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel*

05/18/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Colorado Westminster Westminster Window*

05/18/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

District of Columbia Washington Daily Union

05/01/1845–12/31/1853

Newspaper Archives

District of Columbia Washington (DC) Evening Star

4/11/1877–12/31/1922

Newspaper Archives

Georgia Marietta Marietta Journal

1/15/1961–12/8/1978

Newspaper Archives

Idaho Idaho Falls Post Register*

01/24/2013–Current

Recent Obituaries

Illinois Belleville Belleville News-Democrat: Blogs*

05/22/2009–Current

Recent Obituaries

Illinois Chicago Chicago Sun-Times: Blogs*

02/20/2008–Current

Recent Obituaries

Illinois Elburn Elburn Herald*

10/09/2008–Current

Recent Obituaries

Illinois Springfield Daily Illinois State Register

1/1/1856–1/14/1892

Newspaper Archives

Louisiana Baton Rouge Advocate

10/1/1943–5/15/1958

Newspaper Archives

Louisiana Baton Rouge State Times Advocate

3/3/1933–9/15/1969

Newspaper Archives

Louisiana New Orleans NOLA Defender*

03/13/2010–Current

Recent Obituaries

Maryland Baltimore Sun

8/9/1922–9/3/1922

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald

7/2/1855–9/19/1972

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Boston Boston Herald: Blogs*

10/28/2006–Current

Recent Obituaries

Massachusetts Boston Boston Traveler

9/1/1855–8/7/1951

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Springfield Republican, The: Web Edition Articles*

11/16/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Massachusetts Springfield Springfield Daily News

1/24/1914–11/6/1919

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Springfield Springfield Republican

01/18/1920–01/18/1920

Newspaper Archives

Massachusetts Westfield Westfield News, The*

12/13/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Argus

11/17/1898–12/31/1906

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Daily Times

10/5/1907–4/7/1908

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ann Arbor Michigan Argus

10/31/1879–12/20/1907

Newspaper Archives

Michigan Ypsilanti Ypsilanti Commercial

3/11/1864–8/18/1898

Newspaper Archives

Mississippi Hattiesburg Petal News, The*

04/21/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Nebraska Omaha Omaha Star*

01/07/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

Nebraska Omaha Omaha World Herald

11/1/1981–11/30/1983

Newspaper Archives

Nevada Boulder City Boulder City Review*

11/05/2009–Current

Recent Obituaries

New Jersey Leonia Leonia Life*

01/22/2010–Current

Recent Obituaries

New York Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry Rivertowns Daily Voice*

08/02/2011–Current

Recent Obituaries

New York New York Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

04/01/1871–10/21/1871

Newspaper Archives

New York New York New Yorker Volkszeitung

02/18/1894–02/28/1900

Newspaper Archives

New York Westchester County Newsday: Westchester County Edition*

05/02/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

North Carolina Charlotte Charlotte Observer, The: Blogs*

11/09/2006–Current

Recent Obituaries

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Daily News

4/14/1945–9/30/1977

Newspaper Archives

North Carolina Greensboro Greensboro Record

2/22/1950–4/10/1981

Newspaper Archives

North Carolina Reidsville Eden Daily News, The*

02/13/2013–Current

Recent Obituaries

Ohio Cincinnati Cincinnati Post

1/7/1886–6/4/1920

Newspaper Archives

Oregon Hood River Hood River News*

08/09/2001–Current

Recent Obituaries

Pennsylvania Philadelphia Philadelphia City Paper*

06/29/2006–Current

Recent Obituaries

South Carolina Charleston Charleston Courier*

8/14/1860–2/15/1861

Newspaper Archives

South Carolina Charleston Charleston News and Courier

11/04/1897–07/16/1913

Newspaper Archives

South Carolina Charleston Evening Post

9/29/1914–8/29/1921

Newspaper Archives

Texas Fredericksburg Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post*

08/07/2002–Current

Recent Obituaries

Vermont Middlebury Addison County Independent*

12/27/2006–Current

Recent Obituaries

Vermont St. Johnsbury Caledonian

8/12/1854–6/25/1897

Newspaper Archives

Vermont St. Johnsbury Caledonian-Record

11/25/1908–1/14/1925

Newspaper Archives

Virginia Richmond Richmond Times Dispatch

2/1/1948–12/31/1986

Newspaper Archives

Washington Bellingham Bellingham Herald, The: Blogs*

01/15/2008–Current

Recent Obituaries

Washington Forks Forks Forum*

12/15/2010–Current

Recent Obituaries

Wisconsin Chippewa Falls Chippewa Herald, The: Blogs*

06/21/2012–Current

Recent Obituaries

Wisconsin Milwaukee Wahrheit

09/05/1896–09/05/1896

Newspaper Archives

Thousands More Recent Obituaries from 13 States Coming Soon!

GenealogyBank is adding 21 new newspapers with thousands more obituaries to its Recent Obituaries archives to help with your family history research.

GenealogyBank's search form for Recent Newspaper Obituaries

GenealogyBank’s search form for Recent Newspaper Obituaries

These newspapers are from 13 states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

You can view our entire Recent Obituaries archives here: http://www.genealogybank.com/gbnk/obituaries/

These newspapers will be added in the next few weeks.

Bay Citizen (San Francisco, CA)

  • Obituaries:  06/01/2010 – Current

Arvada Press (Golden, CO)

  • Obituaries:  08/30/2012 – Current

Golden Transcript (Golden, CO)

  • Obituaries:  06/07/2012 – Current

Lakewood Sentinel (Lakewood, CO)

  • Obituaries:  05/18/2012 – Current

Northglenn-Thornton Sentinel (Thornton, CO)

  • Obituaries:  05/18/2012 – Current

Westminster Window (Westminster, CO)

  • Obituaries:  05/18/2012 – Current

Wheat Ridge Transcript (Golden, CO)

  • Obituaries:  05/12/2012 – Current

Post Register (Idaho Falls, ID)

  • Obituaries:  01/24/2013 – Current

Belleville News-Democrat: Blogs (Belleville, IL)

  • Obituaries:  05/22/2009 – Current

Chicago Sun-Times: Blogs (Chicago, IL)

  • Obituaries:  02/20/2008 – Current

Elburn Herald (Elburn, IL)

  • Obituaries:  10/09/2008 – Current

Boston Herald: Blogs (Boston, MA)

  • Obituaries:  10/28/2006 – Current

Boulder City Review (Boulder City, NV)

  • Obituaries:  11/26/2009 – Current

Newsday: Westchester County Edition (NY)

  • Obituaries:  05/02/2012 – Current

Charlotte Observer: Blogs (Charlotte, NC)

  • Obituaries:  11/09/2006 – Current

Eden Daily News (Reidsville, NC)

  • Obituaries:  02/13/2013 – Current

Hood River News (Hood River, OR)

  • Obituaries:  08/09/2001 – Current

Philadelphia City Paper (Philadelphia, PA)

  • Obituaries:  06/29/2006 – Current

Addison County Independent (Middlebury, VT)

  • Obituaries:  12/27/2006 – Current

Bellingham Herald: Blogs (Bellingham, WA)

  • Obituaries:  01/15/2008 – Current

Chippewa Herald: Blogs (Chippewa Falls, WI)

  • Obituaries:  06/21/2012 – Current