Ebay: An Overlooked Website Where Family History Awaits


A featured article by Debra at Debs Dwelling
News from the Field: March 2012


If somebody had told me five years ago that ebay can help with your family history I would have laughed. If a genealogist had told me that ebay can help I would have laughed and then snuck off quietly to have a look. But, neither happened to me. I found it out by accident, in a moment of sheer boredom.


I was searching for items relating to my favourite UK music group, and Australia really had very little so I widened my search area by looking up the UK and the USA ebay sites. Now I was getting somewhere, and over the months that followed I won some great items. One afternoon I found myself searching for scrapbook items (another fantastic reason to give ebay a try, by the way!) and after an hour or more my brain was starting to fry. For the heck of it, I put the name of my childhood hometown into the search area and hit the return button. What came up next, both surprised and dazzled me completely.


I found postcards, carte de visites, books, maps and trinket items, all relating to my hometown. It was like being let loose in a candy store! From there I tried searching for other towns and villages I knew my ancestors were from. Before I knew it, I was bidding on items from counties all over the UK and all relating to my family history. I have won a few less than desirable items over the years; local history books smelling of mildew or cigarette smoke, dog-eared pages, broken spines, rusty staples and yellowing paper. But the good far outweighs these expected misdemeanors because I have found many more true gems. My bookshelf is fit to bursting with booklets, publications, and history guide books filled with images of my ancestors days; A time before machinery, technology and the whirlwind of fast-paced living. These images show men, women, and children working in the fields, proud men seated astride their business carts and wagons, and they show the shops, businesses, local landmarks, and the homes of our ancestors.


I would never have been able to locate half the books on my sagging bookshelf were it not for ebay. I am UK born and bred and my ancestry is 99.9% British but because I live in Australia, I have to utilise a lot of UK-based bookshops, businesses and libraries for my information. This can be time-consuming, very expensive and, sometimes I admit, extremely frustrating. Finding local history books and postcards of my ancestral towns and villages on ebay solved many of my social history research problems.


You may be thinking, this is all very well but where is the evidence that ebay works in terms of researching one’s own family history? Good question, and here I am delighted to share with you my own personal little victories.


One book I bought last year on the history of my childhood hometown’s local cinema included a wonderful surprise. There amongst the forty-something pages was a photograph of my grandfather and my then very young father, who had worked together at this cinema at one time, posing in a group outside the front door!


Then there was the postcard I bid on (which I didn’t win) which had my 3xgreat-uncle’s handwriting on the back, addressed to my cousin 3xRemoved. It went for an exorbitant amount of money in the end, but I did manage to sneakily take a copy of the image before the bidding ended. This was the closest I had come to seeing the actual handwriting of my ancestors since viewing microfilms of faded signatures on marriage transcriptions at my local genealogical society.


Last month I placed a bid on a black and white postcard of a pond with a meadow in the background. It wasn’t a very exciting image, nor was it in pristine condition. I had no idea then of the surprise in store for me when it finally arrived in my post box. There, on the back, was the name and address of yet another cousin 3 x removed! It was not written by my 3xgreat-uncle as I first assumed but it was addressed to a cousin! I was ecstatic. Part of the message reads:


“Do you remember the walk down the meadow?”




Since my first findings, I haven’t allowed a week to pass without searching for any new sale items relating to my hometown and those of my ancestors. I have spent a lot of money but it has been for a good and worthy cause. There is always a risk you have to take with buying items on ebay and as I have already mentioned, I have had some less than desirable items come my way over the years but overall, I have purchased some invaluable (and sentimental) family history treasures.


Read more News from the Field: March 2012


Author Biography:

Debra has been researching her family history for over ten years and loves writing, blogging, collecting old postcards and photographs, world war history, reading ghost stories and historical novels, and is very keen to turn her family history research findings into a series of memoirs.

You can find her family history website here: Preston-Ward: My Family Tree

You can read her family history blog here: A Pocket Full of Family Memories

You can request to follow her on Twitter here: @Debs_Dwelling


Copyright © 2012 Debs_Dwelling (A Pocket Full of Family Memories). Text may not be reprinted without written permission from author.