Ebay Discoveries and Setting Up Searches

Ebay can be a great place to make genealogy purchases or even just to find images of items and materials if the prices are beyond your budget or your genealogy space at home is already limited. I located a picture of an uncle, a fan from a funeral home owned by a cousin, and a postcard containing a picture of the church my 3rd great-grandmother attended in Warsaw, Illinois.

It does take some trial and error to get your searches right and sufficiently narrowed. I have better luck searching for locations, last names, historical features, and similar items. Narrowing your searches may be necessary if the locations are heavily populated or the last names are common. Instead of searching for full names, try a last name and a location.

Some searches to try:

You can also have Ebay email you when new items are listed that meet your search criteria by setting up your own search alerts. Click on the “Advanced” link on the right hand side of the Ebay page first to give more control to your searches and to have more search options.

Then hit “save this search.”

Wait for the email alert when something new matching your search term is added. Make certain your search is not too broad before requesting the email alert. You’ll get a popup notice that the search has been saved.

Incomplete Obituaries

Genealogists rely on obituaries, but remember that they can be incomplete or unclear, especially when the deceased (or their parents or children) have been married more than once. We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating as many of us utilize obituaries in an attempt to get the “tree” down to as recent a time as possible and to analyze our DNA matches.

The obituary for a recently deceased relative indicated they had four siblings. They actually had ten. The only ones listed in the obituary were three full siblings of the deceased and a half-sibling from their mother’s second marriage. That distinction wasn’t made (as it is often not in obituaries). The deceased had six other half siblings through their father.

When the obituary is for someone the researcher is familiar with, the omissions are easy to figure out and the reasons for omissions are sometimes known. When the subject of the obituary is a distant relative–or not even a relative at all–the omissions are often not known.

Personally I am always hesitant to put as “iron solid” relationships as given in one individual obituary, particularly if I’m not already somewhat familiar with the family. I don’t want to attach a child to the wrong set of parents. If it’s the first obituary I’ve found for a member of the family, I try and locate as many others as possible to see if I can discern the relationships a little better–particularly when it looks like there were multiple marriages or relationships that generated children.

Small Projects–Not Large Ones

Those large genealogy projects tend to never get done. Instead of thinking about all the family members you want to document or all the family items you have to preserve, start small.

I’ve decided to work on documenting the descendants of one set of 4th great-grandparents through their great-grandchildren. It’s a small enough task that it will be easier to manage that tracing down all the descendants through the current time. And it is better than doing nothing.

Instead of thinking about all those pictures and other items I have to digitize and organize, I am working on one box and will go from there. One is better than nothing.

Getting something done can also be motivation to continue on with other projects.

What large tasks on your genealogy “to-do list” could be replaced with smaller, more manageable ones?


Check out my webinar on finding and using FamilySearch images.

Check out my webinar on preparing for the 1950 census release.

Track all Those Search Options

I’m looking for a man named Johann Michael Senf who was born in Wohlmuthausen, Germany in 1835. He probably immigrated to the United States as his mother and some of his siblings are known to have immigrated after his father’s death.

His “call name” (the name he was known by) was likely Michael Senf based on the practice of others from the area where he was from. It is possible though that he used the first name Johann or John upon immigration to the United States. The last name of Senf occasionally gets spelled Zenf and gets read as Serf. I need to conduct searches so that I search for those variants (in addition to other ones):

  • Michael Senf
  • Michael Serf
  • Michael Zenf
  • Johann/John Senf
  • Johann/John Serf
  • Johann/John Zenf
  • etc.

While some sites offer Soundex-based searches or wildcard options that may be helpful, I need to make certain that any choices I make include at least these options (and any others that I decide are reasonable). A list of variants for Michael will help me make certain that I look for all options where I perform a search.

I cannot rely on the database to find all variants. Sometimes I have to think for myself.

The Locally, Contemporary Created Index

Many record offices created indexes to their records as those items were recorded. These indexes are not perfect. They are not every name indexes. And just like with every index, names can get left out. But they do have some occasional advantages over new indexes created decades or centuries later to digital images of those records.

The “original indexes” created by the clerk or office that recorded the record originally were often created by the person recording the item at the time it was recorded. The handwriting was not faded. They may have actually known the individuals involved and were better able to render the name in the index even if it was difficult to read on the original–particularly if the original was a birth certificate written by a doctor or someone with handwriting that was difficult to read.

So if the “newer” index to records is not helpful and a manual search is not feasible see if there were indexes to the records created at the time those records were created.

And double check to make certain that a manual search is truly not feasible. Sometimes it simply takes time.


Many of these locally created indexes are included in FamilySearch’s set of digital images of records–see my webinar on those images.

The Unknown First Husband

My aunt Wilhelmina (Trautvetter) Kraft died in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, in the latter part of the 19th century. She was born in 1808 in Dorf Allendorf, Germany. She died without enough of an estate to warrant a probate, had no obituary, or other record in the area where she died suggesting that she had children. The name of her Kraft husband was known and it was assumed that they had been married at least twenty years when she died.

Turned out she had a husband before she emigrated from Germany to the United States. They were married at least twelve years and had five children who survived to adulthood. She and Mr. Kraft were married for twenty years, but all her children were with her first husband who died in Germany before she emigrated. Her children were grown before she moved to Illinois. She is not listed with any of them in any census record.

Until I found the first husband all those children were hiding under his name. Don’t assume that the long-term spouse someone has at death is the only spouse they had.

Get Past the Index

Indexes and other finding aids that are created to assist the researcher in locating someone are imperfect. Names are spelled wrong, transcribed incorrectly, accidentally omitted, etc. In most cases, it is possible to search the records manually to make certain the person is really not in the record.

Do not rely on an index to contain every person actually named in a record series with every name spelled correctly. Original records may have been partially indexed by the body who originally held the records or organized in such a way that may partially reduce the number of pages that have to be manually waded through.

I plan on researching the 1950 census manually when it goes online in April 2022. I’ll start with my rural people and then work on the ones in more heavily populated areas. Get ready for the 1950 census with my webinar–recording and handout included.

Good Intentions

Some records were created before an event took place, usually in preparation for the event itself. The issuance of a marriage license does not guarantee that the marriage ever took place. The announcement of marriage banns also is not evidence of the actual marriage.

Even a church bulletin announcing my baptism that day in church does not guarantee it took place. It does indicate the event was planned and scheduled for that day. And, in all likelihood, it did take place.

But if one document said something was going to happen and other reliable information indicated that event did not happen, remind yourself that not every event intended to be actually comes to pass.

The Giver of the Affidavit

A man and woman had four children “without benefit of marriage” in the 1790s in Virginia. This relationship necessitated documentation of the relationship in order for the children to inherit from the father.

That’s not the tip.

The mother of the four children testified in the 1820s to their relationship to their father–that’s not expected. To strengthen their case another woman testified to the parentage at the same time. If there was a relationship of this woman to the family it is not stated. But she had at the very least known of the relationship between the man and woman during the time the children were born–she testifies to that.

This woman is one who warrants further research. While she may not have had any biological relationship to the children in question, she at the very least must have been a near neighbor to the parents of the children. There’s also a reasonable probability that she was related to one of the parents–either biologically or by marriage.

At the very least this witness warrants further research. Whenever someone provides testimony about members of a family and their relationships that someone is someone who should be researched.