Sunday, August 5, 2012


When is the last time you sent a postcard? Years ago every time someone went on vacation they sent postcards to their loved ones back home. Postcards have changed over the years. If you would like more details on the timeline and design of postcards, see "A History of Picture Postcards" ( Postcards are still around, but it seems to me that now people would rather upload their digital photographs and e-mail shots of their travels than take the time to buy a postcard, find a stamp and locate a mailbox.

Vintage postcards are a goldmine waiting to be mined on eBay. Many of the pictures displayed on postcards are relevant to genealogy:
  • Hospitals
  • Schools and universities
  • Churches and synagogues
  • Court houses and town halls
  • War memorials
  • Cemeteries
  • Local businesses
Postcards of this type will help you identify the names of churches where your ancestors may have worshipped, schools where they were educated and hospitals where they were born or died. A monument honoring war veterans just might contain the name of someone from your family tree. 

In addition, it is always fun to get a feel for an ancestor’s home. You will find postcards with pictures of:
  • Scenic vistas (rivers, beaches, waterfalls, mountains)
  • Street scenes
  • Parks
  •  Hotels/motels
  •  Libraries and museums
  • Bridges

It is wonderful to find dates of births and deaths, but I want to envision the world of my family. My Welsh ancestors resided in Utica, New York, and had a business on Bleecker Street. This postcard entitled “Bleecker Street from Busy Corner, Utica, New York” shows an early 20th century picture with horse-drawn carriages and women wearing long dresses. This was the environment of my grandparents and my grand aunts and uncles. The postcard gives me a sense of what my ancestors saw and what life was like for them. I keep the postcard in an acid-free sleeve in my Williams surname binder.

If you are really lucky you will find a postcard with writing to or from an ancestor. The following is a postcard I found at home from my grandmother to my mother. The card (postmarked 1955) shows Playworld Toy Shop in Utica, New York; I happen to know that my grandmother worked there. When you find a postcard like this you have placed the sender and receiver in a particular location at a specific time. This is good information for finding other records.

Sometimes postcards are just plain fun. The following is a postcard that my Aunt Wynn sent to her sister Bell in February of 1962. Wynn was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, while poor Bell was freezing in Utica, New York. Notice how Wynn states that it is a “very hot day”!

Do a search on eBay today and see what treasures you will find. If you don’t find what you are looking for, set up an alert so you will be notified when a relevant item comes up for bid. Also, look around your attic or basement for old postcards. This is one more tool we can put in our genealogy toolkit.

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