Research Tips

Using eBay to Further Your Genealogical Research

Have you ever considered using eBay to research your family history? Believe it or not, it’s an excellent resource. Here’s how to use it to your best advantage.

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Have you ever considered using eBay to research your family history? It can really be a big help in getting you over research bumps and can even help you make new discoveries. You don’t even have to purchase anything to make the good discoveries, though sometimes you may want to, especially if you find something particularly rare and valuable. If you have never considered eBay as a potential source of genealogical research, you are missing out on some potentially terrific discoveries. Here is a comprehensive tutorial on how to get started with eBay for genealogical research and what you might find through this famous online auction site.

Search by Your Family’s Surname

This is a terrific technique if your family has an unusual surname. It gives you the opportunity to find all kinds of things pertaining to your family. You may find things for sale regarding your family such as:

  • Old family photos
  • Family Bible records
  • Published genealogies on your family
  • Books that mention your family in them
  • Family heirlooms that belonged to your ancestors
  • Old letters or diaries written by or to your ancestors
  • Church histories that mention your ancestors
  • Town histories that talk about your ancestors
  • City directories with your ancestors in them

If you have a more common surname and know where your ancestors lived, try searching the surname and the city or town. Put each in quotation marks, and eBay will give you results that match your family’s surname in the city you entered. This is a particularly good way of finding family photographs and heirlooms, but you may find some good documents this way, too.

The people who are selling these things may not even be related to you. In fact, most of the time they are not. They are antique dealers or people who picked up the information and artifacts at garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores. By putting them for sale on eBay, they are hoping to help reunite these things with their family of origin while making a little money at the same time.

You don’t have to buy everything you come across. Sometimes, you can take screenshots of photographs and save those to your computer. You can do the same thing with pictures of documents that are readable in the photographs. Sometimes, a lot of information will be in the item description, and you can copy that and use it in your genealogy. Of course, if you find something you really like and want to buy, by all means, do it. It will only add to the richness of your family history.

Contact Sellers and/or Set Up Alerts

If you find sellers that have items pertaining to your family, you can contact them through eBay and ask that they inform you whenever they get in any new items with your family surname on it. Do this with as many sellers as you can, even the ones that haven’t yet posted anything to do with your family. Look at antique dealers in the areas where your ancestors lived and contact them through eBay. Go through archives of previous sales and find people who sold items pertaining to your family and contact them, too. You will build up an army of people all over the country, or in one particular area, who are searching for family history items particular to your family, and who will inform you when they find them.

You can also set up alerts on eBay to let you know when a new item with your family’s surname is posted on the site. You may be surprised at how often you get alerted. Even if you don’t get alerted a lot, you will be confident in knowing you will be the first one to know if something that could be of genealogical significance to your family is posted on eBay. You can even make the search more specific, such as setting up an alert to inform you whenever an item with your family surname and ancestral town comes up for sale on the site. The more specific you can be with what you enter into your search requirements on the site, the more likely you will be to find items of genealogical significance to your family.

eBay can be a wonderful resource for genealogical research. Because so few genealogists know about using it to find out about their family, its genealogical potential is underused. This is good news for you because you will have your pick of many interesting things involving your family when they come up on the site. You will have few, if any, competitors. If you haven’t used eBay for genealogical research, give it a try. You will be glad you did when you see the amazing things that appear on the site that can connect you more intimately to your ancestors.


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.