You Never Know What You Will Find on eBay!

For years I have used a service of eBay that allows me to specify search terms for items being sold. I can specify the search terms once, and then eBay sends me an email notice whenever any new item is added to the online auction service with words in the item’s listing that match my search terms. I started doing that perhaps ten years ago or longer, and occasionally it has paid off.

I have often found items for sale that I would not have known about otherwise without manually checking every few days. I have purchased a number of “good finds” over the years, including old family history books, some CD-ROM disks containing genealogy information and county histories, and more. This week, it paid off big time!

My great-grandfather, Orman Eastman, spent his early years in West Corinth, Maine. I do not know a lot about the man’s life although I do have a photograph of him that was taken when he was a senior citizen. A couple of weeks ago, eBay sent a message to me that made my eyes open wide: an old photograph had just been offered for sale on eBay, and the description said:

Victorian House Photo, Orman Eastman Home, West Corinth, Maine

When I went to and looked at the listing, I found it was not only a photograph of the house but also included four people in front of the house: two men, a woman, and a boy who appears to be five to maybe ten years old. Is one of those men my great-grandfather? Is the woman in the photo my great-grandmother? (I have never seen a picture of her before.) Who is the young boy in the photo?

In addition, there is a horse in the photo. Normally I would not have paid attention to this except that I remember my father describing visits to this man’s home when my father was a young boy. Dad mentioned that my great-grandfather’s hobby was breeding race horses and then racing them at county fairs. Was this one of his race horses?

Needless to say, I bid on the picture. A few days later, once the auction had ended, I received notice that I was the high bidder. I went online and paid for the photograph, and it arrived a few days later in the mail. I immediately scanned the photograph at 1,200 dpi (dots-per-inch), the highest resolution available on my desktop scanner. Then I sent the image to a friend of mine who is an expert at digital photo enhancement. (She is also the editor of this newsletter.) She used  photo editing program to darken the image and to improve the contrast, and sent the results back to me. Not only did the photo look better, but I can now also see a little girl in the photograph who wasn’t visible before!

Here is the result:

NOTE: The above image still had to be compressed and shrunk in order to fit in this newsletter’s web page. The version stored on my own hard drive is larger and higher resolution than the above version. However, the zoomed-in version is still “grainy.”

Hey! Wait a minute! There is a fifth person in the picture! Can you see the little girl in the extreme right side of the above photo? The man seated in the chair has his left arm around the little girl. I can’t see her face or other features, but she is definitely there. I had not seen her in the unedited version of the photograph.

The “north end” of a south-facing young colt also is now clearly visible.

Thanks to earlier research in the County Recorder of Deeds’ office, I know when my great-grandfather sold the farm in Corinth and bought another farm in East Bangor, Maine. That tells me the latest possible date that the photograph was taken. Based on that, I now believe I can identify all the people in the photo: my great-grandfather is seated to the right, the man on the left who is holding the reins of the horse probably is my grandfather (who was a very slender man), the woman seated is his wife (my grandmother), and the children shown are the two oldest of of their family: my uncle and my aunt, apparently about 3 and 6 years old at that time. The photograph obviously was taken around 1905 or 1906 when my grandparents and their only children (at that time) visited his father. (My grandparents later went on to have five more children, including my father.)

This is now a cherished photograph in my collection. Thank you eBay!

The moral of this story: you never know what you will find on eBay!

If you would like to have eBay monitor new listings for you and to notify you of anything being added that may be of interest to you, read the step-by-step instructions at:

Another Option

Another option is the AutomatedSearches web site at AutomatedSearches is not run by eBay. Instead, it is a third-party web site that searches eBay for you. The AutomatedSearches web site claims that it offers “Up to 1,440 times more effective than eBay’s once-a-day email alerts.” I am not sure how the site’s owners determined their site is 1,440 times better although I do realize there are 1,440 minutes in a 24-hour period. In any case, I’ll take their word for it.

The AutomatedSearches web site allows the user to “fine tune” the searches, such as to only look for items within a specified number of miles of the user’s location or to search only for new items or only for used items and more. When items are found, the AutomatedSearches will send your choice of either an email message or a text message to your cell phone.

The AutomatedSearches web site is available free of charge although the company does sell “upgrades” that add extra functionality. Still, I found the free service to be rather powerful. I’d suggest using the free version for a while and then decide later if any of the paid upgrades appeal to you. I haven’t yet seen any need to pay for anything for my simple usage of eBay. Your needs might be different.

Again, that is at:

What can YOU find on eBay?



What a wonderful find, Dick! Is the house still standing?


Dick there is someone standing behind the horse, too, probably not identifiable, but this is a great find.


Welcome home, Dick!


Lucky you! What a great find.


I had a similar eBay experience. I found a picture of a first cousin (3R) standing in front of her home in southeastern Kentucky. Other people, yet unidentified, can be seen sitting on the porch. The picture was ca. 1880.


I found my uncle’s World War I ID bracelet on eBay.


Thanks for sharing these services. There are also family bibles that turn up on ebay from time to time with family records. Another tools is Google earth. It’s harder with a farm but if you know the area they lived in it’s amazing what you can find. I’ve identified a family home in Ireland from an old photo taken in front with just a street name and county by just virtually cruising with street view. I was able to recognize the house that is still standing and identify the town!


My grandmother’s family lived in East Corinth and my dad was born there. I have a picture oif my great grandmother and great grandfather standing in front of their house there. It was probably around the same time as your photo.


Hi Dick. I am Dave Moniz, the owner/creator of Thank you for the mention. If you or your readers need anything, please let me know. 🙂


    A similar effort but for Craigslist, unless you or someone else is aware of something that’s already out there?

    Many of the items that I previously would have expected to find on eBay are now turning up on Craigslist. The problem is that CL is segregated by region. The family items that I would’ve loved to have acquired show up all over and are gone by the time I come across the listing.


    Dennis, I wish I could build a system for Craigslist. They don’t allow developers to do it legally.


I share in your excitement of finding a treasure on EBay. I did a Google Search of my 3X GGF and the first hit was to an Ebay Auction of an historic letter. The letter was written by Titus Ives in New Milford, CT to Nathaniel Hunter in Sharon, CT in 1817. All the names and places were an exact match to my family. I emailed the seller and asked how much he’d want for the letter to stop the auction. I did not tell him why I wanted this letter at this point. With that he said $50 and would relist it as a Buy It Now sale and within hours I won the bid! I then told him why I wanted the letter and he was so happy the letter was back in the family. He said he came found the letter in a Storage Unit he bought at auction and did not think there were any other family related items unit. So just how this letter traveled from PA to CA is a mystery. The letter is now framed between two pieces of glass proudly hanging on the wall along side pictures of Titus’ descendants.


    If that letter were mine (and I’m so wishing something like that will happen to me), I’d make a very good copy and hang that on the wall and put the original in the safest place in my house. No matter how well framed, light will eventually fade it.


Dick, I am so happy for you. With the information you provided I’m going to take advantage of this “resource” that I knew nothing about until now. Good luck finding many more gems. Let us know please if you use Google Earth and find the home hopefully still standing, and what you find in your visit next summer. Thanks for sharing.


A great article. I, too, use E-Bay for genealogy searching-books, photos, letters, memorabilia. I think few people think about it as a great genealogy source-glad you wrote the article-I’ll share it with our genealogy club.
Another great site is to find rare books (of course, for digital people GoogleBooks & other such might be better-I’m just an old-fashion librarian).
George Nettleton


The image looks older to me, perhaps ca. 1880. The tone of the image, appearance of clothing, and appearance of the print suggest a generation older in my experience.


    This is my experience also. It looks like the image is an albumen which process began to rapidly disappear about 1890. I too have found many local images and photograph albums of my family and neighbors on eBay.


This is thrilling news, Dick! Congratulations! Thank you for sharing this treasure and how you found it. I haven’t been lucky enough to find anything on ebay myself, but I was very lucky in another way.
Some years ago a wonderful stranger contacted me. She had bid and won on eBay some papers found in an old house in Brooklyn, NY. The family name was DONSHEA, my brick-wall Irish ancestor who I’ve been researching for decades. The pages listed the birth dates and baptismal dates in the mid 1800s, (and even included the Brooklyn church name), of 7 of the 9 children of Isaac Donshea and his wife Catherine Ada Buckley, sometimes called Kate Ida. They also included some wedding dates and death dates. The papers didn’t take me back to the Donshea Irish home (which I only recently discovered was Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland) or give me the names of Isaac Donshea’s parents (Robert Donshea and Margaret Conway); however, they gave me much detailed information that I hadn’t so far been able to find.
To make it even more amazing, this special woman had bought the Donshea papers knowing they weren’t her family – to give them to the Donshea descendants. She also wanted to keep another buyer she recognised from getting them, because she said he would buy items on eBay and then sell them at a much higher price. And bless her, she would take no money from me for the purchase or postage.
Going back to your fantastic find, it’s amazing to be able to look through that window of time and see people as they lived. It always gives me goosebumps. Your editor did a cracking job improving the photo, making it possible for you to identify and see all the people and animals in it! Wonderful!! Thank you for sharing your treasure and these ebay services, which I will definitely use. Kind regards.


Wow that’s a great find! I use ebay for genealogy too. I have purchased some of the CDs of books etc(that I couldn’t find on or other sites), and they have been a help. I also purchased an old bible with a little info, and a few year books for previous generations. I have also purchased the odd things like coins and stamps of an ancestors home country, and even a railroad nail from the exact railroad a great grandfather had designed and had built! Those few last items are the only things my sons seem to enjoy about genealogy! 🙂


What heart-warming experience, Dick. I must try this again, as I presume it works just as well in the UK. I once got a tip that someone was selling a Marriage Settlement pertaining to my g-grandmothers marriage in eBay, and I immediately contacted them, and was able to buy it off them. Since then I have barely tried it again, but will definitely do so now.


HI. Thanks for this information. I haven’t used this before and how do you start to set up a search? What categories do you go to? How did you find the photos? Thanks so much for this information..


    —> I haven’t used this before and how do you start to set up a search?

    Go to and click on SEARCH. It is a blue icon in the upper right corner on my desktop computer but it might be somewhere else if you are using a device with a smaller screen, such as n iPad, an Android tablet, or a cell phone. Then enter whatever terms you want, such as:

    Penobscot county

    John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt (substitute the name of one of your ancestors)

    Jingleheimer family

    Jingleheimer genealogy

    On the page at you will also a small link beside the SEARCH icon that says “Advanced Search.” Click on that and eBay will give you more options for your search, such as “use exact spelling,” “search both the titles and the text of the listed item,” “search only for new or for used items,” and more. The advanced search can narrow the search for you. For instance, if you first search for “Penobscot county” and get overwhelmed by too many “hits” for things that are unrelated to what you seek, the Advanced Search can narrow the focus of your search.

    Also, you can try multiple searches. For instance, if the first search for “Penobscot county” produces too many results, try a different search, such as Penobscot county genealogy, Penobscot county families, Penobscot county history, or anything else that you can think of.

    —> How did you find the photos?

    As mentioned near the end of the above article, there is an OPTION to have either or to perform searches for you daily and then send any results to you in email. I love those services!

    I have an automated search for “Corinth, Maine.” I receive email notices occasionally from eBay or from AutomatedSearches of all sorts of things listed on eBay that are related to that town that are for sale, such as old postcards, high school yearbooks, a small book giving the history of the town, or similar things. Luckily, it is a small town so there aren’t all that any eBay listings flooding my email in-box every day. I wouldn’t do that for “Chicago”!!! However, one day a couple of weeks ago I received an email that did include a listing for my great-grandfather’s farm in that town and the listing also gave his name, which I instantly recognized.


Hi Dick,
Great catch! I am interested to know if there was a source for where the photo came from?


    —> I am interested to know if there was a source for where the photo came from?

    Almost none. When I asked the seller, he said he had purchased it in a box full of old photographs at an auction in a small town about 40 miles away from where the photo was taken. Somebody wrote in pencil on the back of the photograph, “Orman Eastman Home, West Corinth, Maine.” That’s all the seller knew.

    Looking at the handwriting on the back of the photo, I am suspicious that it is my grandmother’s writing. I have a letter she wrote and the handwriting on the photo looks a lot like her handwriting in the letter. However, it isn’t exactly the same so I am not certain.


Congratulations! I’ve had standing searches on ebay for several years in a similar hope. No luck so far, but it’s been fun to see the items that are on sale.


In 2007 I received an email from a man who had an 1850 letter for auction on eBay. The letter was written by a distant relative of mine who was a Baptist preacher in Indiana. The seller did some research on the internet, found the letter writer’s name on a website I have for my family, and notified me. I was the only bidder and won the letter for $9.99!


Ebay does restrict how many constant searches that they allow you to have set at one time. I tried to set one the other day and I got a message from them saying I had hit the limit they allow. I thought that was short sighted on their part, you would think they would allow you do set as many as you would like to since each one is a potential sale for them.


This was a great find! There is a site where you can see pictures many areas in the 1960s. I have been able to find my grandparents Maine farm houses. See


Also Dick, I have a free alert system for Amazon.


Thanks for the tip on AutomatedSearches. Congratulations on your find. I have also used Ebay Auto Search for years and found a photograph of my great grandmother. What a treasure.


Hanging proudly on my wall are two 18th century Skidmore/Scidmore documents won on eBay. One is a platt of some property owned by a Skidmore, which includes an important site on Long Island, New York, called the “Bread and Cheese Hollow”. Local legend tells us that Nissequogue Indians gave Richard Smith permission to establish the present-day boundaries of Smithtown by riding atop a bull and encircling all the land he could in one day. After the journey, Smith stopped at the Bread and Cheese Tavern for food. However, the name might also come from local hawthorn plants, which settlers referred to as “bread and cheese.” Over the past 10 years, I have found dozens of similar finds, bidding on all of them, but, if not winning, downloading an image of the document and its description.
This post may cost me to lose out on such a document, but one of the best purveyors of such historic documents also has a wesite –, where he sells items, whereas he auctions them on eBay.


Hello Dick, You are a very lucky fellow to have found such a treasure. I have studied your picture with great interest. But I do have one question —- Where is the horse’s right front leg???


    —> Where is the horse’s right front leg???

    I cannot say for sure but I suspect the horse moved when the picture was taken. It’s tough to make a horse stand still for the photographer!

    Cameras of that era had very long exposure times. Humans normally had to stay very still while the picture was taken. That’s why the humans typically look very grim and are staring at the camera. If you have ever seen an old photograph where the human or some object did move, you will notice that that movement results in either a blur or even not appearing in the photo at all. I have seen that frequently in old pictures taken on city streets.

    Here’s an example:



I have used the eBay search and email system since 2001 and have found many family finds this way. Both of my husband’s grandfathers were professional photographers and many of their photos were published as postcards. So far I have collected over 1000 special interest postcards that they produced, some used their wives and children as models or “tourists” in the photos. One of the grandfather’s went on a two week road trip in 1913 with a Chicago car club that started in Chicago, then traveld to Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, Niagara Falls, Detroit and back to Chicago. He took photographs of the drivers, automobiles, and landmarks (1913 Indy 500 racetrack entrance) throughout the trip and at the end, sold personalized photo albums to the people from the trip. A few years ago, one of those albums was listed on eBay and I was the winning bidder. What a find, 125 photos in the book and he was in two of them. I was able to find newspaper articles about this trip from several of the cities they traveled through.


Maybe you could call on your friends (relatives?) at the George Eastman International Museum of Photography and Film to provide an even better view. They digitized eight daguerreotypes of the Cincinnati waterfront taken 24 Feb 1848 using state-of-the-art technology and produced the “Mona Lisa of photographs” now displayed at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. I’ll bet they have scanners even better than your 1200 x 1200 resolution.


I have discovered several family photos using the ebay search. All the photos are of my great uncle.. He has an unusual first name, Kossuth. Ebay search has tracked him down three times and all are different photos. I’ve also discovered many postcards of family owned businesses and hotel buildings that no longer exist. I checked out and set up an account and many searches. Thank you for the
information you share. You have an excellent newsletter.


Following your article last week I followed your example with an eBay search for a family name and, bingo, a wonderful find of a newspaper clipping from 1912 showing my maternal grandfather and grandmothers wedding in Eastbourne, Sussex. I bought the clipping and sent a scan to my 90 year old aunt (by my grandmother’s later second marriage) – she was thrilled beyond words. As she said “In my 91 years I have never seen any pictures of either of my mother’s weddings”!
Keep the interesting articles coming.


    Hi John, thanks for telling me of your success. I never know if my articles are useful or not unless someone like yourself takes the time to write and let me know. You made my day!


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