eBay Genealogy

If you aren’t using eBay for your genealogy then you might be missing out on some special things. Much like a lot of things with genealogy, using eBay requires patience. But that patience can be worth it and pay off.

If you’ve never thought to look for things on eBay to do with your family history then you need to give it a try. Today if I search genealogy on eBay I’ll get 51,342 items and that’s just for that word. What if you search for a place or an item? My grandparents had Blue Willow dishes so I could search and purchase something that will add to my collection and remind me of them.

These are my grandmother’s dishes that I purchased from my grandmother

Or my paternal great grandfather, Jesse Oliver put the roof on the MacDonald Hotel. If I search MacDonald Hotel today I can find 69 items that have that word in the listing. Everything from postcards, advertising, matchbooks, pins, and even a menu from 1967. But of those 69 items, there are a few that aren’t for the MacDonald Hotel in Edmonton so I need to change my search to get just the Edmonton ones.

One of the things I’ve done on eBay is set up alerts and they are easy to do. All you have to do is search for an item and once you get your results you can click on the ?. eBay then will send you emails daily when something that you’ve searched for comes up for auction. You may have to tweak your search so that you get exactly what you need. Here are some examples.

If I search for items in regard to my Beaton surname if I’m not careful I will get notified every time someone lists a book written by M.C. Beaton or a photo of Cecil Beaton or golf supplies by Steve Beaton. So in this case I need to edit my search so I only receive notifications for what I’d like.

To do this all you have to do is use some of the same search terms you would use on Google. So to get only items for William Beaton I can put quotations around his name; “William Beaton” but then if there was a listing with a middle initial or middle name I wouldn’t receive anything for William J. Beaton. So if you aren’t sure how a name might be listed you can add an asterisk as a wildcard to your search “William * Beaton” .

To exclude items like M.C. Beaton or Steve Beaton all I have to do is add a minus sign so my search would be “William*Beaton” -M.C. Beaton-Steve Beaton.

So getting back to my MacDonald Hotel all I have to do is add the word Edmonton and now I have 32 listings to look at.

Also if you check at the end of the search space on eBay you’ll find the words Advanced Search. Here you’ll get additional help to make your search and alert exactly what you’re looking for.

I’ve found that after you’ve set up an alert sometimes you just have to give it a tweak. To do that all you have to do is go to your eBay page and at the top is “My eBay“. Click the dropdown and you’ll find your saved searches where you can edit or delete searches.

So why do you want to do this? In the past, I’ve been able to purchase portrait cards for my family research. Like this one.

Gordon Knowles

Currently, I’m bidding on a postcard that isn’t about my family, but it’s a street view from Kingston, Ontario. This street is where my family lived, so it will add context to my family story, and it will be added to the family history book that I’m writing.

But you can search for other things on eBay. You can search for local history books or books about how to research in a particular place, matchbooks, or just genealogy in general. The ideas are endless.

Here are some of the things I have alerts for.

  • Kingston, Ontario
  • Liverpool (in particularly Jasmine Street)
  • Beaton
  • Batten
  • Middlebrough (less football)
  • Genealogy Alberta
  • Tweedsmuir History Of Pittsburgh Township (I’d love this book)

If you need more help with your searches, you can find more HERE on eBay.

Happy Hunting


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  • Belinda says:

    On a local auction site I found a tea set made in Burslem, Staffordshire (with “Burslem” in the maker’s mark) where my 3rd great-grandfather was a master potter (he was a contemporary of Josiah Wedgwood III). At an antique store I found flying shuttles used for handloom weaving, an industry which several generations of another family line worked. I gave one to both my mom and sister, with a write up on weaving in Scotland, a link to a video showing how it was used, a photo of my 3rd great-grandparent’s weaver’s cottage in Stonehouse, Scotland where I visited in 2018, and a basic family tree of ancestors and their job descriptions in the cloth industry (from censuses) spanning more than 100 years.