This is a short guide on how to use eBay to build your family tree.
eBay can be a virtual paradise of possibilities for the average family tree researcher, however, there are some traps to be aware of.
Family tree software
There are numerous Family Tree programs available to hold all your tree information. Ask anyone and they will generally recommend the one they are using, which isn't a bad thing to follow if you have no idea what you are doing. These days most programs can be accessed from the internet. There are heaps of freebies out there which are quite good and other’s let you trial products either for a limited time or with restricted abilities. The big trap for the unwary, is not to research what is available from the web. I’ve seen auctions for free programs, copied programs and older editions of programs that while original, can be freely downloaded on the web. Don’t get caught paying for something which would have cost you nothing and use eBay smartly to purchase programs cheaper than from traditional sellers.
Family tree information
These days there are countless ways to collect information on your ancestors. Many historical societies have either reproduced or transcribed local area records on formats such as cdrom, dvd, floppy disk and even via the web. These societies and companies sell their products to support themselves and help deliver more products to needy researchers. Some of these products are released with very strict usage agreements, including restrictions on re-sale. These groups are trying to protect their earning potential from unscrupulous users purchasing them copying them and then re-selling the originals. Other restrictions on these products might include printing and downloading restrictions. Again research on the internet to get an unbiased view of products before you bid and don’t get caught up in the auction and pay more than you need to. Fore warned is fore armed and you may just find the information is freely available on the web. Another example of getting overly excited by the prospects is buying electronic information without checking if it's fully searchable, or alternatively, indexed! While the 1861 census records of Staffordshire in England may seem fantastic, they are not much use to you if you have to manually read through 100,000's of scanned census images in old English scrawl looking for someone that might have even travelled across borders during census times !
Look-ups offered on eBay
A number of companies have worked tirelessly to transcribe data from old microfiche and micro film records. The most well known transcriptions are the ones of the United Kingdom census records from 1841 – 1901. Considering Australia’s history, there’s a good chance your ancestors may be hidden in these records, like a number of my lines I’ve traced back to England. Buyer beware again with some of these auctions on eBay for paid look-ups. I’ve never seen an auction actually say which supplier’s product they are using, however one of the main company’s who provide paid subscriptions to census data, specifically forbids subscribers offering look-ups of their products, unless the original user has paid a significantly higher fee to access their product in this way. So help keep the system fair and check with the seller to see what their source is. Also, chances are you are paying for something you don’t need to pay for. There are many sites that offer free access to census records, and if you join a listserv for the geographic area your ancestors are from, chances are that someone will help you for nothing. This family tree spirit of helping someone is known as a Random Act of Genealogical Kindness (RAGK). Try also Google searching using terms like Look ups or RAGK’s and a geographic area.
eBay offers the historical world at your fingertips. Use eBay to buy gems such as historical directories, commentaries, maps, diaries, photos etc the list is endless. Support your habit and your family tree by scouring book sales, markets, garage sales etc for things that might be of interest for others researching their trees. Just like you might be looking for old photos of where your ancestors came from, someone else is looking for the same thing for where there ancestors came from. Sell them on eBay and use the money to get something that you need to further your own research. Don’t forget to add a search to you favourite searches for hard to find items and have eBay automatically email you when someone lists an item that matches your description. Some of the resources you are looking for could be quite rare – it could take weeks, months even years for it to be listed on eBay.
Searching on eBay
To get some idea about the types of resources on eBay, try searching for terms like genealogy, family history, family tree. Once you get initial results you can narrow your search down by omitting records that are not relevant.
An initial search might be: (+genealogy, +family history, +family tree) - which will find all records that mention any one term eg genealogy or ‘family history or ‘family tree’. Initial search example
Repeat the search with a geographic area or place name: (+genealogy, +family history, +family tree) +Australia - which will find any of the terms in brackets where they appear with the term Australia. Modified search example
To then reduce the number of records, re-do the search to omit irrelevant terms: (+genealogy, +family history, +family tree) +Australia -kids -scrap booking -movies - which will find any of the terms in brackets where they appear with the term Australia without the terms kids, scrapbooking or movies in the results. Final search example
Another search might be looking for any items that mention your family names. I have one search that looks for all items on eBay that mention any of the four different surnames I am researching. Again, by having eBay notify me of the results I can easily keep track if anything appears on my family lines. If you have a more common surname, try adding terms that I mentioned under the intial search above to limit it to family research related items.
See eBay Advanced searching commands for more tips on how to build your searches.
Good luck with growing your tree with eBay!