Friday, December 13, 2013

Serendipity on eBay

Dee Grimsrud found her grandmother's scrapbook and her uncle's baby bookIt’s a good idea to post a watch on eBay on your surname. When a matching item comes up for auction, you receive notification by email. You never know when a family Bible or something else of value might show up. Fortunately for Dee Grimsrud, she did just that.

The passing of an older generation is poignant, perhaps even more so for a genealogist, since we are so focused on our ancestors and their memories. Dee lost her mother in 2007. Her grandparents had passed back in the ‘60s. One of two uncles died back in World War II. That leaves her with just one uncle from her Mother’s family.

A seller on eBay with the username “junybean” likes old stuff and frequents auctions, buying things despite her husband’s objections. Some time ago she bought a box of old books at an auction near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Earlier this year junybean needed some cash to pay for a car repair bill, so she put the books up for auction.

That triggered the watch Dee had established and she received an email notification of the Grimsrud listing. She clicked through to examine the items.

“Imagine my surprise,” wrote Dee to me, “to zoom in on photos of various pages containing my grandmother's very-recognizable handwriting, and snapshots of various family members, including my mother as a young girl!” She immediately contacted junybean who got special permission from eBay to cancel the auction so she could get the scrapbooks to Dee.

“Just today I went to visit my 91-year-old uncle, to deliver to him a scrapbook kept by his mother from about 1917 to about 1941 and his baby book,” wrote Dee. He was the last living person documented therein. “Needless to say, he was in tears much of the time this afternoon while we uncovered treasure after treasure pasted and written in the books!”

Dee and her family wonder where the books—which no living family member knew existed—had been all those years. How had the books left the family and made their way from Milwaukee to Oshkosh?

Junybean told Dee, “It actually makes me think that there was some sort of divine intervention to help you locate these.” Dee’s best friend calls it “genealogical karma,” Dee’s reward for helping so many people as a reference archivist at the Wisconsin Historical Society as well as helping numerous friends and acquaintances.

We call it “serendipity in genealogy.”

Thank you, Dee, for sharing.

P.S. Dee recommends creating carefully worded watches on eBay for family surnames, clarified with place names and or other focusing keywords.

Sources: Dee Grimsrud ([email address withheld for privacy]) to the Ancestry Insider (, emails, “Another ‘Serendipity in Genealogy’ Story,” 13 September 2013 and 14 September 2013, privately held by the Ancestry Insider.


  1. I really love this story! Thanks so much for publishing it. I have tried to figure out how to put a watch for my surnames on eBay, but never could find where/how to do it. I have Googled around and searched the site with no luck. Can Dee please give me a hint...? Thanks in advance. :-)

    1. I'm sorry I didn't reply to you earlier, but this is the first time I've revisited this posting.
      So here's how to create a search to follow, using eBay's own instructions (as of today, 7/21/15):
      To follow a search:
      1. From the top of any page, enter the item you're looking for in the search box, and then click Search.
      2. On the search results page, click "Follow This Search" at the top of your results page. You may be asked to sign in. [if you're not already logged in]
      3. Select the checkbox if you want to receive email notifications when new items match your search.
      You can change your privacy settings to make your searches public or private. Learn more about customizing your privacy settings:

      When you follow a search, it is listed in your profile under Interests. Interests are private by default when you create them. If you'd like to make an interest public, go to your profile and under Following, click Interests. Under each interest, click Private, then click Public – visible to everyone. You can delete an interest at any time by clicking Unfollow.
      Here are my further hints/suggestions:
      - Searches are not case sensitive.
      - If you're searching a common surname, in addition to localities, you may want to include given names, especially if they are unusual.
      - To focus in your search (to get fewer false hits), you can exclude words from your search phrase (the same way as in a Google search). For example, here is my Grimsrud search:
      grimsrud -fargo -grill -beer -vada -Ted
      NOT fargo, because a character in the movie Fargo was named Grimsrud
      NOT grill or beer, because there's a vendor who makes customized signs, etc.
      NOT vada or ted, because they are authors, and I only want manuscripts, artifacts, ephemera, photos, etc
      - You may want to create several searches for the same person/family, varying the places or additional search terms; e.g. include an occupation, dates, etc.
      - But remember: "Less often gets you more"; you don't want to be too specific or you may miss some valid hits.
      - You can change or delete an existing search by going to "Followed Searches" under the "My eBay" menu on the home page (after you've logged in).
      There are more instructions on eBay, if you need them.
      Good luck!

  2. Enjoyed this story. I know that other relatives have put a watch on our family names and our hometown. They have had some success too. This reminds me that I need to do this too.

  3. What a good idea to put a 'watch' out on a family name on eBay, and how terrific was this for Dee Grimsrud! A wonderful result!!


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