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eBay for Genealogists

15 Feb 2023 1:06 PM | Anonymous

Genealogy information is wherever you find it. Have you ever thought of looking for genealogy books and records at everyone's online garage sale on eBay? I keep an eye on the genealogy-related offerings and have found some interesting items.

Perhaps the best thing I ever purchased on eBay was a tax collector's book from Corinna, Maine for 1907 that listed the taxes my grandfather paid that year. Another was a handmade quilt made by a distant cousin in the 1840s. I have also purchased limited edition history books for several of the small towns that I research with some of those books mentioning my ancestors. Some of the books were original editions that were 100 years old or more although recently I have limited my purchases to scanned images of old books that are sold on CD-ROM disks.

Of course, you can find software for sale as well as microfilm and microfiche copies of old records, old family Bibles, and much, much more. In fact, the major problem is there is too much! You may be overwhelmed with the available items. 

When preparing this article, I checked and found that eBay had 72,000 items listed for sale with the word "genealogy" in the description. I was also amused to find more than 1,400 items listed with a description keyword of "geneology." I guess some people can't spell. In any case, when you are searching on eBay, you might want to try both spellings.

Of course, you don't want to spend hours paging through more than 72,000 listings. You want to quickly narrow the search to items you are interested in. Luckily, eBay makes that easy.

To search for genealogy items related to your family's name, enter a search of GENEALOGY and a surname of interest. For instance, I often search for:

genealogy Eastman

Of course, you are probably searching for multiple surnames (your mother's maiden name, your grandmothers' maiden names etc.) If so, you will want to conduct multiple searches.

I just did that now while writing these words and found a book on one of my ancestral names that I have not seen before. It is a book on CD-ROM: $6.99 and free shipping. I haven't seen that book before on Google Books or any of the other online book services. $6.99 is cheaper than the gas required to go to the nearest genealogy library that might have that book on the shelf.

Excuse me for a moment while I purchase that...

OK, I'm back. I should receive the book on CD within 5 to 7 days.

I also search for items of interest from the towns where my ancestors lived. In my case, most of them lived in very small towns so I simply search for the name of the town and the state. For instance, I have an interest in the town of Corinna, Maine so I simply enter those two words in the search box: Corinna Maine. 

Such a search will find all sorts of items from that town: post cards, old advertisements from merchants, and more. If your ancestors lived in a larger town, you may have to narrow your search a bit. For instance, for Boston, Massachusetts, I might search for:

Boston history

Boston genealogy 

Boston geneology (yes, there is that common spelling error again)

Boston families

In the past, I have purchased a number of pictures and postcards that were 75 to 125 years old, including one of an old-time steam engine crossing the railroad bridge where I used to go swimming as a child. The only thing I ever saw was diesel engines so the picture of that steam engine from the 1880s is especially satisfying. The bridge hasn't changed much, however.

I also purchased a post card showing a trolley car in front of my great-great-grandfather's house. The trolley tracks disappeared many years ago. 

One genealogist reported that she found a 125-year-old book on eBay written by her great-grandfather. It was in pristine condition and she purchased it for $20. I wish I could be THAT lucky! I have purchased books on eBay that were published in the 1840s. 

Even with these methods, searching can be a time-consuming process. However, eBay offers a very powerful tool that can cut down the work immensely: saved searches with e-mail notifications.

When you conduct a search on eBay, the results screen first reports how any items it found that match the search parameters you specified. Just to the right of the number of results found, you will notice a link that is labeled "Save this search." Click on that and you can follow the menus to tell eBay to conduct a similar search for you once every day and, if anything is found, to send you an e-mail message with the results. 

The saved searches is one of the most useful tools available on eBay. It searches for you while you are sleeping. If there are no new matches found in the past 24 hours, there is no email sent. You do have to create a free account to use the saved search features but that seems to be a minor requirement. You will need an account anyway if you wish to purchase anything. eBay accounts are free and painless to obtain.

I use eBay saved searches to look for genealogy materials, historical items from the towns where my ancestors lived, historical items from the town where I now live, Corvette parts, ham radio equipment, accessories for my laptop computer, and much more. The saved searches service is free and, if there is a limit to the number of searches, I haven't found that limit yet. I have a lot of saved searches and I am accustomed to having 10 or 20 new email messages per day from eBay. 

Will you find information about your ancestors on eBay? Perhaps. Will you find information about where they lived and perhaps their lifestyles? That is almost certain. You may even find occasional listings of items about towns and villages in eastern Europe.

To get started, go to


  • 16 Feb 2023 12:51 PM | Anonymous
    I have found several county histories on eBay that I can't borrow on interlibrary loan. Watch the prices though - I paid more for one book which I could have bought cheaper directly from a genealogy society.
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