Finding Genealogy Records and Books on eBay

I purchased two genealogy books this morning. The books are both about my family name, although not about my direct ancestors. I have seen both books previously in libraries and am quite familiar with the contents. Today, I purchased my own copies on CD-ROM disks to keep on my computer as well as in my own private area “in the cloud.” Both books provide background information which interests me as well as may provide answers when other people contact me about their Eastman ancestry. Since I will copy both disks to my own password-protected area in the cloud, I will have them with me at all times. I can access them from home, from a laptop at the gate at an airport, from the iPad from most anyplace, and even from my “smartphone” when at the grocery store. Admittedly, reading books on a tiny cell phone screen does offer a few challenges but reading them on a laptop, tablet, or other ebook reader is often more convenient than reading similar content on paper.

Best of all: I am delighted with the price: $10.95 for one and $7.95 for the other. Those prices are much, much cheaper than purchasing reprinted books on paper (typically $35 to $200 and occasionally even more).

These books also will be easier to store, easier to access, and much more convenient to read wherever I am.

For instance, when attending a genealogy meeting or conference, if I meet a possible cousin, it will be possible to show the contents to that person within seconds on my laptop computer, iPad, or cell phone. Even better, it only requires a few seconds to copy-and-paste a few paragraphs or even a few pages into an email message and send that information to my new-found cousin. I can even do that while standing in the convention center at a genealogy conference!

In short, I carry my personal library with me at all times. Try doing that with printed books!

Perhaps one of the greatest overlooked genealogy resources is the huge “online garage sale” at eBay. For years before the invention of the Internet, I scoured flea markets and yard sales looking for old books, hand-written records, family Bibles, photographs, and anything else that would assist my search for ancestry. So, why not do the same with the online equivalent of yard sales and flea markets: eBay?

Indeed, old records and genealogy books are available by the hundreds on eBay. You can go to http://www.ebay.com and search for almost anything. I did a search on the word “genealogy” and found 42,717 items listed. Some eBay sellers apparently cannot spell too well: I also did a search on the misspelled word “geneology”: and found another 463 items listed for sale!

Used book dealers who specialize in genealogy materials are finding that eBay is perhaps the best market for their goods. They can scan out-of-copyright books and then sell them worldwide on eBay. Millions of people will have access to these books with a simple search, far more potential customers than will ever enter a store or even read a printed catalog. Best of all, out-of-copyright books can legally be scanned once, then sold multiple times to multiple customers. The result is far more profit for each bookseller.

To be sure, the quality of genealogy material on eBay varies greatly, just like the items you find in yard sales and flea markets and even in used book stores. You can find books of all sorts, including printed books as well as books that have been scanned and are now sold on CD-ROM disks. I entered a search of “genealogy cd” on eBay.com and found 3,360 items listed. Some of them are duplicates of others items already listed but there was a wide variety of genealogy-related items available for sale, most of them are scanned images of out-of-copyright genealogy books. Upon receipt, I copy the CDs to my computer’s hard drive and to my password-protected space “in the cloud” where I can access it at any time, wherever I am, by using a tablet or laptop computer or even from my cell phone.

A few digitized books are even available for direct online downloads within seconds after you make the purchase although CD-ROM distribution is still much more common.

You can occasionally even find original records. I once purchased the original 1907 tax records for the town of Corinna, Maine, hand-written by the municipal tax collector at that time. It shows my grandfather’s farm listed with real estate valued at $400 plus a personal estate of $92. It states that grand-dad paid real estate taxes that year of $10, personal estate taxes of $2.30 and a poll tax of $3. It also shows that his next-door neighbor never paid his assessed taxes, at least not in the year 1907. I hope that he paid them in arrears the next year.

By the way, I have no idea how official tax records of a town end up on eBay, or in a garage sale for that matter. I would assume that the records still belong to the town. In the case of the Corinna tax records, I scanned the entire book and saved them as digital images. I then donated the original book to the town.

As when searching through garage sales and flea markets, be prepared to sift through a lot of junk in order to find the gems of interest. You will find books, reprints of books, scanned books on CD-ROM disks, reprints of Virkus’ Compendium (a series of pseudo-genealogy books printed from the 1920s through 1940s and generally considered to be worthless), genealogy software (always verify that you will receive a legal software license), family Bibles, and more. One of the greatest treasures I ever found was a handmade coverlet made about 1840 by a man in my extended family tree, not a direct ancestor but a great-great-great uncle. The quilt included a handwritten letter from the man’s granddaughter written in the 1930s describing her grandfather and how she came to inherit the coverlet.

I have also found listings of CD-ROM disks that contain scanned images of all sorts of books, including a few that are still under copyright. Of course, selling copyrighted material is a Federal offense. Anyone doing so risks receiving an unpleasant letter from the copyright holder’s attorneys. If you see such disks listed, you might drop a note to the seller. I have done that and have always received pleasant “thank you” messages in which the seller claimed that he or she did not know that the copyright was still in effect.

Scanning through other items listed on eBay shows that most everything genealogy-related can be found there. In fact there are so many genealogy-related items that there are too many to find by using a simple one-word search of “genealogy.” Luckily, there is an easy solution: narrow the search down for specific terms by using more words.

I found my books this morning by performing an eBay search for “Eastman genealogy,” which specifies the results to show any listings that have both those words in the titles. I found 14 items listed.

Of course, you can search for other words. I have an interest in Penobscot County, Maine, genealogy, so I conducted a search for “Penobscot genealogy” in both titles and descriptions. (Eight items were found.) You can use your imagination to find the items that interest you. You might also try searching for combinations of two, three, or more words.

Too busy to go to eBay every few days to find items of interest? There is an answer for you as well. eBay will automatically conduct daily searches for any words or combinations of words that you are looking for. If found, eBay will send an e-mail to you, listing the item(s) found. You do not even need to visit eBay at all until you find something to bid on. You can find more information at http://pages.ebay.com/help/buy/searches-follow.html.

Of course, just like flea markets and garage sales, you have to be careful about what you purchase. Money back guarantees may or may not be present; so, read the entire description to find out. eBay has a strong policy about accurately describing the items to be sold and enforces it rigorously. However, with several million sellers active at any time, it is impossible to enforce those policies everywhere.

One of the best things that eBay did was to invent a rating system in which the buyers rate the honesty and timely shipments of the sellers. If you see a seller with a high rating, you know that previous buyers of his or her products were satisfied with the results. Always read the rating of a seller before bidding. You can read more about the rating system at http://pages.ebay.com/help/confidence/know-seller-stars.html and at http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/hub.html.

eBay offers several payment methods to choose from. By far, the most popular method is to use PayPal. Actually, PayPal turned out to be so secure and popular a payment method that eBay bought PayPal several years ago. PayPal is now a division of eBay and has proven to be much safer than using credit cards or mailing checks. When using PayPal, the seller never sees your credit card number. PayPal pays the seller for you, decreasing the possibility of fraud. eBay/PayPal offers full insurance against any form of fraudulent use of the service. The protection is available to both eBay buyers and sellers. Details may be found at https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/paypal-safety-and-security.

I must say that I have been an eBay devotee for years. I have purchased probably several hundred items on eBay, including dozens of genealogy books, one tractor, two automobiles, and several computers for myself and my friends. I have also sold numerous items on eBay, again including two automobiles, with one of them shipped to a buyer in the Virgin Islands! I have been quite satisfied with the results.

Out of all my purchases, I can only recall one disappointment, and even that one was handled to my satisfaction. I once purchased an item for $200 that, upon receipt, seemed to be a bit more “used” than the seller’s description indicated. I contacted the buyer, and he immediately said, “Send it back.” I did so, and a few days later my credit card was credited for the full amount, including shipping. While I am a satisfied eBay shopper, I still closely evaluate every seller’s feedback rating before bidding on anything new. I only purchase from sellers who have a high positive feedback rating, typically looking for ratings that are 99% or higher positive feedback.

eBay is, indeed, the world’s largest garage sale. It can provide many items of interest that would be nearly impossible to find elsewhere. Yes, even rare genealogy books and other items can occasionally often be found at http://www.ebay.com. I suggest you take a look for yourself.

 

15 Comments

I’ve only used eBay once, not for genealogy, but was extremely satisfied. I used PayPal to pay for it. I’ll give it a try for genealogy material, given your endorsement.

A relative, 100% disabled in a work accident, supplemented his disability income for years by scouring physical flea markets and garage sales for antique toys, reselling them on eBay. Ultimately his health forced him to retire even from that, but was very happy with how the site functioned and the protections it offered to him as a seller. There’s indeed a niche for everything.

Like

The Clarion county book is available for free, to read or download, on Archive.org, at https://archive.org/details/historyofclarion00davi

The atlas plat book of Kingsbury Co. SD is not on Archive.org, but seems to be available for download at the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/resource/g4183km.gla00119/#seq-1 for page by page.

Oddly enough, I have distant Wigton cousins who were early settlers in Esmond there. Esmond was a busy place for a while, but is now all but abandoned. I did not know this book existed until you posted about it .. so many thousands of thanks!

Like

    Excellent point, Michael! I’ve checked out quite a number of eBay CDs relevant to genealogy and found most of them available free on the Internet. Caveat emptor.

    Like

    Kimberly Prell Clark July 8, 2014 at 8:59 am

    I was going to mention archive.org and see that Michael has already done so. I have been able to download hundreds of gigabytes of ebooks from actual family histories, county books and bios as well as other types of media from this site for family history use for personal use and those of my clients. Familysearch has many books as well if you just do the search. I’ve found them to have some I haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

    I have used eBay many times to purchase family history CDs and many at a steal compared to what the hardcovers cost and CDs and hard drives don’t take up as much space. :-) It is always good to back up your information and have a second copy when you’ve purchased one just in case…

    Love your newsletter, Dick Eastman! Many thanks for all you’ve given to the genealogical community!

    Like

Just lately a helpful tech expert installed Wi-Fi for my laptop which replaces my older computer; therefore, I now can aspire to use the Kindle my niece bought me a couple of years ago. I’ve been wondering what I’d like to use the Kindle for, specifically, other than merely reading books for pleasure or otherwise (I usually prefer hardcopies from my library for the former, but that’s probably because I’m not used to e-book reading except in smaller doses). You reminded me with this article of the easy searchable capabilities I’ll have when I download scanned books to the Kindle. That in itself will be worth setting up and learning how to use the Kindle. Thanks, Dick!

Like

Living in Australia, I have purchased many, many genealogy CD’s from Ebay, most for about $5 – $6. One note of caution though – some CD’s have as many as 100+ books on them, but don’t have an integrated ‘search’ function. So you have to search each individual book…but still better than getting on a plane!! I tend to look for CD’s with books over 100 years old – the information is more current for those old ancestors – plus the stories are interesting!!! I use COLLECTORZ to manage my CD’s and books and have been able to take the data in the collection down to the family level – very helpful for researching when I forget which CD the info might be on.

Like

I am one of those genealogy-history sellers on eBay. I have taken the time to locate, download, make searchable (if not already so), and assemble collections from the entire eastern US and Canada selling, for example, 73 histories of Pennsylvania for $21.95 — including Clarion County. It doesn’t feel right to use this space to advertise, but my customers have told me many of the things that Dick points out in this article. Copyright has also come up — I was once told by another seller that I could not sell a particular book because HE was selling it and that HE bought the copyright (book was printed in the 1870s). I informed him of basic copyright law and all I got from him was an insulting email calling me a “know it all.” Some people! Anyway, I still have over 2400 books for sale on about 130 DVDs, and they also are all in “the cloud” so I can access them any time, any where.

Like

I have seen the Kingsbury County Atlas being sold before along with many others by the same company. My only complaint with that company is they are from Canada and all or most of their atlases are downloaded for FREE from the Library of Congress web site. This Canadian company is selling what U.S. tax payers have paid for. Anyone with a computer can themselves download it for free from the Library of Congress website. The same goes for the books they sell. http://www.archive.org is a source for many of them.

Like

Governments have “retention schedules” for many records that are no longer necessary. They simply get discarded. That is one way government records end up in private hands. I would think that tax records would need to be kept in perpetuity. They may have been digitized or else somehow abstracted for official town purposes. Or — they may have been stolen.

Like

One of my family history talks features ebay (do tick the box to ensure you search title and description !). Also if you do find a medal or document on ebay – consider contacting the seller and asking whether you could have a copy of the image if you don’t win the auction. At least then you have something should you find yourself outbid. I can also recommend (among others) Invaluable.com and auction site which has a searchable archive (so if you have a rarer surname you can search for lots which can include images) …..

Like

Reblogged this on The Guthrie, McCoy, Misson & Showalter Families and commented:
This is a fantastic article by Dick Eastman on using eBay to search for genealogy books and CD-ROM disks. This is a great idea and worth pursuing!

Like

I’d like to know more about how to find anything useful on eBay. I hear all the time about how folks find useful private records, family bibles, etc. and I’ve never found anything beyond books that are free from Google and Archive.org, photos of famous ships and trains that have the same names as my ancestors hometowns, and things like baseball cards that have no relation to the family but might share a common name.

Postcards are fun to collect from eBay, but at some point I would like to be able to search it to the point where I could FIND something useful.

Like

eBay is full of interesting, and potentially useful, things for genealogists. For example, the category collectibles > paper > documents > 1800-1899 has an indescribable mixture of important and irrelevant original documents that once meant something to someone. In most cases, you don’t even need to buy the document — you can save the image (get the enlarged version if they have it), annotate it with the names and locations of the people mentioned in it, etc. For that chance in a million, that they’re selling Great-Uncle Fred’s release papers, the prices are probably not out of range.

As an experiment, and to learn about responsive website design, I picked one dealer and worked up a display site with some of his documents for sale. The website design works, but the effort involved in processing the images and text was too great to make it a regular thing. You can see the tryout pages at http://www.mikeandkaren.org/genealogy/originaldocs/originaldocs.html (or: http://bit.ly/1ohI6BW ) — note that New Jersey and Massachusetts were just block-repeated to test web rendering responsiveness (that is, can it be compatible with any browser on any size screen, including smartphones).

Like

First, thanks for an excellent article with more than a few suggestions I hadn’t known about. It just went into Evernote!
I stumbled on a photo of my great grandmother on eBay a few years ago. Just labeled “Mother Brown” taken in her hometown, but looks like another photo I have of her, and like my Dad, and like me. Great resource.

Like

Great ideas! I typed in “family history” on eBay and pulled up another 22,000 plus items!

Like

Leave a Reply

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,170 other followers

%d bloggers like this: