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May 31, 2011

Using eBay to Find Genealogy Items

I use eBay a lot to look for ephemera with a connection to my ancestors. I've written a few blog posts about some of my great genealogy finds and interested readers have asked me for advice on using eBay successfully.

It can be  overwhelming when you search for something on eBay using the name of the city or village where your ancestor lived, and you get hundreds of hits. How do you narrow your search results? There are two ways to do this that I am aware of.

Let's use the search term Guelph That's the city where my parents were born and where my dad's ancestors settled in the 1860s. So I'm always on the hunt for some bit of ephemera that might involve an ancestor or provide me with some interesting background on the places they lived or worked.

394 Results!
If I type "Guelph" into the eBay search engine i get 394 results. That's a lot to look through! I can narrow my results though by choosing a category from the left side panel. I know I don't want any of the results in the "Sports" categories so I've elminated 174 of the hits already. "Collectibles" is probably more what I'm looking for so I've only got 132 results to look at. I could narrow that even further with the sub-categories within "Collectibles" if I wanted to. So that is one search method. Do a broad search and then narrow the results.


You might also want to search within a specific category such as "Collectibles" rather than the entire eBay website.  I don't like to do this as I find I miss items if a seller doesn't put the item in the category I think it will be found.


If I search within titles (the default search) and am not finding what I want, I will often include my search to the item description. That is easily done by ticking the radio checkbox under the green Search button. This allows for a seller not using the word Guelph in her item title but using it in the description. For example I once bid on and won a beautiful 1930s watercolour of a river and bridge in Guelph. The word Guelph was not in the title but it was in the item description.


Advanced Search on eBay
There's another search method that you might prefer. eBay has an Advanced Search option. To use it, click on the word "advanced" to the right of the green search box in the generic search engine top of the page. You now have a long list of choices (options) for searching. I've shown a few here in this graphic.

Now you can choose from specific items, or buyers or from an eBay store. Those choices are fairly intuitive on how to use them so I won't go into detail here.

Let's discuss the choices of criteria you can choose in the drop down list. Let's pretend you wanted to find yearbooks for Guelph. You might enter your keywords Guelph, yearbook

All words, any order: Search in titles containing all the words you've listed, in any order. The titles would have to contain both your keywords.

Any words, any order: Search in titles containing any of the words you've listed, in any order. This would result in hits for any title containing the word yearbook or Guelph So you would get a lot of hits that didn't apply such as "Toronto yearbook" or "Fair Dinkum Yearbook"

Exact words, exact order: As this choice says, you are searching in titles containing the exact keywords in the exact order you gave them. in this search, you would get results if the title contained "Guelph yearbook 1932" but not if the title was "Yearbook Guelph 1932"

Exact words, any order: This would give you results for a title "Yearbook Guelph 1932"


You can also EXCLUDE words from your search. So I could use Guelph as a keyword but exclude the word sports or hockey or baseball. Perhaps I definitely don't want a Guelph souvenir spoon. I can exclude the word spoon.


This is another option for searching. Using the generic search box at the top of eBay pages I can use several different search operators to refine my search.

Quotation Marks: These tell the search engines to search for that exact phrase. So I might search for "Guelph postcards" to find any titles with that exact wording. But I could also use "Guelph" postcards and this will find titles with the word Guelph and the word postcards but there  might be other words in between. So it would find titles using  Postcards of Speed River in Guelph

Asterisk (*): This is a wild card and allows you to search for an item such as Guelph Yearbook*  This will bring up the plural of yearbook as well as the singular. It would also bring up any title with the partial word book such as bookshelf or bookmark.

Commas and Brackets: I can use commas to separate keywords inside brackets, such as (Guelph, postcard). This brings up titles containing those keywords in any order

Minus sign: This acts as an exclusion operator and will bring up titles containing your keywords but not containing your exclusion word. So for example Guelph -hockey would eliminate any titles that are hockey related for Guelph items.

So there you have it - different ways to make your search for genealogy items on eBay much easier. And now I'm off to do my weekly search for any Guelph genealogy items. Oh one more thing - if like me you end up doing weekly searches, be sure to sort your search results by "Time: Newly listed". That way you won't keep clicking on through the older items that you have already looked at!


Geniaus said...

You're a treasure. I think I asked you to share your eBay strategies.

Thanks, I'll read throoughly and see what I can apply to find some genealogy gems there.

Cheryl Cayemberg said...

Great blog post! Thanks for all the wonderful information!