As a fellow researcher I have learned some expensive lessons on buying genealogy items on eBay and wanted to offer some tips.
First, have a plan. Browsing can be fun, but bidding on impulse may not yield the best results. Nothing can be more upsetting than opening your fought for item and not finding your ancestor inside. I suggest instead that you look at it as if you were taking a trip to the library. Typically, when you go to the library you’re prepared with a plan on what names and areas you want to research. Here’s a plan I use:
List Your Surnames
List the Surnames you are searching for first. Then, under each surname, list the areas and years in which they lived. My list looks like this:
Surname Areas Years
LAMPLEY Williamson Co., TN 1823-Current
Dickson Co., TN 1810-1825
Richmond Col., NC 1810
Craven Co., SC 1765-1784
New Castle Co., Del 1700-1780
Delaware Co. PA 1682-1720
England Prior to 1635
Now, as long as you are searching in these areas you know what books that you are interested in and what books you can ignore due to the date it covers. For instance Census Records of Delaware Co., PA will not do me any good, as census records were not taken during the years my ancestor was there.
A note about spelling: Don’t forget to be aware of the spelling variants of your surname. I usually write them out in my list and sometimes create separate searches for each variation: Lampley, Lamply, Lampleigh, Lamplee, Lamplough, Lamplew, Lamplugh. If you’re not sure of all the different spellings you can do a search on google for your surname or you can do it yourself. Spelling was quite different in older records; court clerks, census takers and others mostly spelled names the way they sounded. So, sound out your surnames and all the possible misspellings will appear. Note also that some ethnic groups may have different spellings: For instance my Scottish ancestors go by Rainey and Rennie in America, but in Scotland they were listed as MacRennie, MacRainey, MacReeny, McRiner, and MacRenner. Greek ancestors on the other hand may have changed names completely: Stavros may become Americanized as Stephens and then revert back to Stavros a generation later.
Using the Advanced Search Feature
Once you have created your plan and narrowed down all the spelling possibilities, you can use eBay’s’ Advanced Search feature more productively.
I am starting with my uncommon surname of Lampley, for ease of explanation but if your surname is as common as say Smith or Brown, don’t be discouraged. I’ll describe how the Advanced Search feature can still get desired results. The easiest search instructions follow:
• Click on the link "Advanced Search" which is usually in the very top right corner on any eBay page.
• Type in your Surname.
• Leave the Popup menu to All Categories. (This is because some items are not listed under Genealogy)
• Select the box that says "Titles and Descriptions." (Your surname will probably not appear in the title).
• Click OK.
This will return a list that is hopefully not too huge. For instance, a search for Lampley returns 64 items. If the number of returns is too large, we’ll have to narrow the search more.
Add to Favorite Searches
If you are satisfied with that search, don’t start browsing yet, even though you might be tempted. The first thing to do is click the link “Add to Favorite Searches.” You’ll be taken to a page that lets you name your search that you can access any time in your “My eBay” page under Favorites. Don’t forget to check the wonderful option of being notified by email any time an auction with your surname is listed. If you’re worried about whether it’ll be too many emails, select the notification time period of seven days. Otherwise, go from 6 to 12 months. Click “Save search.” Your newly defined search will appear in a list on your “My eBay” page. Click on it and you can begin browsing items for sale at auction and in the eBay stores. On the left of the page that appears is a list of the categories that have items that include your search. It’s up to you which items you can ignore. For instance, I can automatically ignore the items that appear in the Music, Sports, and Video Games categories, but will be particularly interested in the “Genealogy”, “Books”, “Antiquarian” and “Everything Else” categories.
Narrowing a Search
But, say for some reason there’s a huge return on your search. Auctioneers are suddenly infatuated with Sports Commentator Jim Lampley. Hey, it could happen. If there are more than 100 returns on your search you might want to narrow it down. Go back to the link “advanced search.”
In the case of a Lampley Search, I would still select all categories, but in the Exclude box I would type “sport” (Note: it is not necessary to include the plural of a word, its included).
Now my return search comes up with considerably less items that more closely match my interests.
Narrowing a Search Further
If you are searching for Browns or Smiths or any surname that gives you too many returns, here’s how to narrow it down further.
In the keywords box put into parenthesis any of the areas that you want to find your surname in. I would type:
Lampley (Dickson, Delaware,Williamson,Barbados)
• Select on All Categories
• Select Search Title and Description
• Select “All of These Words”
• In Exclude these words, type: Sport (or what ever word you find the most unuseful)
• Hit return or select “Search”. You can leave the rest of the selections at default.
I am now presented a more reasonable return on my search that specifically mentions my Lampleys (or in your case Browns?) in any of my specific areas of interest or any other word that is between the parentheses.
Don’t forget to click on the link “Save to Favorite Searches” (as described above).
Other Search Options
You can apply these search techniques to all the varying spellings of your ancestor and save each as a favorite search.
If you’re like me, you may have many surnames to search in one specific area. In that case you can reverse the keyword search like this:
“Dickson County” (Lampley, Sullivan, Rainey, Green)
Now my return would list any item from Dickson County that had any of my surnames listed. Note that I don’t put that the county is in Tennessee because of the inconsistency in spelling the state, some abbreviate some don’t but I find that if I specify it further I might loose some great leads. You might also notice that I put Dickson County in quotes. In this search, I want to limit the return to only the exact phrase “Dickson County”. If I didn’t use the quotes all items with the words Dickson and County would appear.
One word of caution: you should be aware that some sellers do not provide a surname index in item descriptions. You may also need to include searches of just your areas of interest with keywords that will yield desirable results such as:
“Dickson County” (Marriage,Deed, Court,Census,Map,Plat,History)
Now, browse your new searches and find those missing links, but keep in mind your master plan -- the time frame and areas you are researching – before bidding.
Please let me know if this Guide was helpful or if you have any ideas on making it better. Also stop by for a visit at my store H_P Dysfunctional Collectibles.