26 January 2014

My Ebay Win-Virgil Rampley-And Some Ebay Thoughts

It's rare for me to find items really related to my own immediate family history on Ebay.

And yet I did. And yes, it was a really "neat" experience.

The screen shot below was taken from the Ebay website (item 321301556486) on 25 January 2014, shortly after the auction ended. I have yet to receive the picture, but not even 24 hours have elapsed since the auction closed.

I'm excited to get an original copy of the picture--I already have a scan of it made from a copy in the possession of a relative.

But locating the picture and obtaining it has me wondering:

  • How do I really know it's a Virgil Rampley? In my case, it looks like the other picture I have of him that was identified by his sister, Fannie (Rampley) Neill and was in the possession of her daughter, Nellie (Neill) Shanks. But what if this was the only picture of him that I had identified? With nothing else to compare to, how would I know it was really Virgil?
  • And with just a name on the back (and no other identifying photographer mark, handwritten comments, etc.), how could I know "which" Virgil Rampley it was? Of course, Virgil Rampley is not the most common name and a picture of him in a World War I era uniform certainly narrows down the possibilities, but what if the name were more common and the time period a little more difficult to pin down?
  • And what of the provenance? How do I know that it was identified correctly? How do I even know who identified the picture?
  • And, if I had simply chosen to "copy and paste" the picture from the ebay site for use in my own genealogy (without purchasing it), how do I cite that? Referencing the Ebay website, the date of access, the seller (who has intentionally been left out of this blog post for privacy reasons), and the item number should be a part of that citation. Of course, Ebay auction pages are taken down after a while, and I'm not certained exactly how they are archived on archive.org (if at all). Others cannot easily "go back" and view the page in 6 months, let along longer. And then, is the image just one that I essentially found "anonymously" on the internet?
I'm not saying not to use images of this type for items that you've not personally purchased. After all, personal use is personal use and I'm not the genealogy internet police. What I am saying is that there are issues that need to be thought about.

A Hypothetical Situation

Let's say that there is a purported picture of my 3rd great-grandmother for sale on Ebay. The auction price is more than I can afford or I am outbid at the very last minute. I am unable to contact the seller or the buyer. I copy and paste the image for my own personal use. I cite it. How do I really have any idea that the picture is 3rd great-grandma? 

That's a problem with many pictures we encounter if one really thinks about it. There is one difference. Usually with pictures we use in our genealogy, we have some sense of the provenance of the picture--at least who identified it or how it was identified or who had it when we saw it or copied it. In the case of simply taking an image posted by an unknown person to an auction website we don't. And the real concern for the genealogist is probably "where did that picture come from...and are there more?"

Don't construe this post as saying the pictures sold on Ebay and other sites are not identified correctly. They probably are. After all, no one is going to get rich selling pictures of Virgil Rampley or any of my other relatives on Ebay. It is just that we need to think a little bit about where we get information. 

You can never go wrong if you completely cite. That is how you (and others) know exactly where and how you obtained the image. And that's what it is all about.


As mentioned before, we believe in citing information in the spirit of Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained. However my editoral policy on this blog is not to include citations as a part of each blog post. We do however include enough information in each post to obtain the original item or to craft a citation (if you think I haven't, please email me and I'll rectify it). We realize others include citations as a part of each blog post, but there are only so many hours in the day. My newsletter, Casefile Clues, does contain complete citations to any items referenced in that work 

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