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Accessing primary sources for marketing and advertising history research from family history websites

Leighann C. Neilson (Sprott School of Business, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 24 March 2022

Issue publication date: 6 May 2022




The purpose of this study is to respond to the Journal of Historical Research in Marketing special issue call for discussions that can assist advertising and marketing history researchers locate primary sources of interest to their research by describing the resources available through the online family history websites and


Brief histories of Ancestry and FindMyPast are presented, based on publicly available records and secondary sources. This paper explains the types of data researchers can access via and, the costs of access and then provides some examples of how these resources have been used in past research by marketing and advertising historians.


Family history websites such as Ancestry and FindMyPast can provide researchers with access to a wide variety of data sources, such as census and voting records; immigration records; city directories; birth, marriage and death records; military records; and almanacs and gazetteers, but at a cost. In some cases, paying for digital access to records is more convenient, timely and can cost less than travelling to access these same documents in physical form. Depending on the researcher’s geographical location and the country from which records are sought, this can add up to quite a cost savings. When using these sources, it is wise to determine which database contains more of the records you are searching for; Ancestry tends to have better US and Canadian resources, while FindMyPast covers the UK better.


Researchers interested in conducting advertising and marketing history research need access to primary data sources. Given restricted travel budgets and, indeed, restricted travel under COVID-19 conditions, gaining access to primary sources in digital form can allow researchers to continue their work. At any time, gaining access to digital records without having to travel can speed up the research process. Researchers new to the field, and those with many years of experience, can benefit from learning more about family history databases as primary data sources.



The author thanks to Jeannette Strickland and Richard Hawkins for allowing him to use the examples of their research.


Neilson, L.C. (2022), "Accessing primary sources for marketing and advertising history research from family history websites", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 281-291.



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