For Sale To The Highest Bidder

Author: Mark W. Swarthout
Published on: October 26, 2001

One of the new phenomena of the web is the on-line auction. As has often been said, "One man's trash is another man's treasure!" The auctions provide an opportunity to get a bit of cash for things that you might normally throw away. The on-line aspect of things means that the items are getting shown to a huge audience across the world and is not limited to the few people who might come cruising by the yard or tag sale. It also means that you can find items you want without having to drive from place to place, weekend after weekend, looking for that special item. Particularly without having to drive half way across the country, to find regional specific items! So what does this mean to a family historian?

Talk about bringing a lot of history to life! So what sort of things are being sold that can help you capture and record your family history? History books, postcards, letters, certificates, all sorts of medals and uniforms. Genealogy history books, lineage books, even accumulations of standard genealogy family sheets can all be found on some of these web auctions. Many of the old newspapers discussed at the beginning of this series can be found for sale, as can some of the vanity histories also referred to in another earlier article.

There are many of these items that aren't very valuable, just difficult to find, but they may have a tremendous sentimental value. Picture postcards can provide scenic views of the main street of your ancestor's hometown in the time frame of when they were living there. Perhaps you can even find an anniversary plate from the church in which one of your ancestors got married. Yearbooks from high schools and colleges, cruise books from ships and group photographs of teams and organizations can be discovered.

Examples of some of the treasures I have personally acquired:

Copies of some of the newspapers printed and edited by my Fairchild ancestors.

A book on the history of the town I where I went to high school. It was written, and autographed, by one of my high school English teachers! And, the surprise bonus, it even had a picture of me in it!

Autographs and books from and about famous ancestors and relatives of both mine and my wife's family.

The most famous of the on line auction houses is eBay, where there are hundreds of categories and thousands of items available for your viewing and bidding. Not only do they have lots to look at, they provide insurance and protect the buyers and sellers. As with the search engines, it pays to play around a bit and learn how to refine your searches. This will help you find the types of items you are interested in. Place names and surnames are the main parts of my searches.

CAUTION: Watch that you don't pay too much for an item that is not worth the cost! It is easy to get caught up in the auction fever and pay much more than an item is really worth. I have been patient and waited for a similar item to appear later on. I bought one Vanity History for less then half of what someone else had paid just two months earlier. Not to mention I also got the separately published index with it, an item not included with the first sale! Evaluate the price that similar items have gotten in earlier auctions.

You should also go out to see what price you would pay to get the item directly from a dealer. Vanity histories and other books can be found through used book sellers at Barnes & Noble's web site. And use your new found search engine skills (see my article on Using Search Engines) to see if the items are available from dealers in post cards or china, or whatever catagory you are bidding in. There is no sense paying at auction more than it would cost you directly from a dealer! The idea of the auction is to save some money and locate rare and hard to find items, not go broke! I have seen items with a catalogue value of $1.05 offered for sale at a minimum bid of $12.00! That's a pretty big markup!

And while the items themselves may not be of interest, they may lead you to consider other items for your search. Perhaps you will discover a name, a location or another angle you hadn't thought of before.

Oh, yes! It pays to know who else is researching the family history and may be bidding on items you are interested in. I know the auction names of a number of my fellow genealogists and family members and don't bid against them for items, knowing I will benefit from the information they may acquire.

Good luck in finding bits and pieces of your family history for sale on the web!

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Updated on 10/25/2005