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Searching for Records

Recovery of stolen records involves the positive identification of the records followed by actions to reclaim them. This is a resource-intensive activity and your organization should determine the conditions under which you will pursue missing records. Consult with your organization’s leadership and legal counsel - you will need their support. If, in your search, you find an item that may belong to another organization, make every effort to share that information with them.

Getting the Word Out provides an annotated list of valuable web-based resources for posting and sharing information about theft and stolen items.
Getting the Word Out

Keep track of your search efforts in a systematic way.

Look for Stolen Records in the Marketplace

Stolen records may appear in any number of forums, including online auctions, catalogs, and trade shows.

Online Searches

  • eBay™ and other online auction sites are primary places to look for stolen records. Dozens of historical records thieves have been attracted to these sites because of the perceived anonymity of their sellers. You can look for records efficiently by using structured searches or software designed to do automated searches. Your staff can then review the results and identify items that may be missing from your repository.
  • Searching individual seller email lists or catalogs should also be considered. Start by identifying sellers that deal in the types of items that were stolen. Sign up for their email lists and catalogs, and routinely browse them for offerings that match the description of your missing items. While this approach is less efficient than the automated eBay searches, many thieves will develop a relationship with a few sellers, funneling more and more of the stolen items through them.

Online Search Guidelines

Clearinghouses for stolen or missing items are a good place to share and browse for information. Posting your loss will provide exposure to a broad audience of interested people who likely have the skills needed to identify your missing items and communicate the information back to you. Reviewing the postings made by other repositories may also help you identify theft patterns, which are frequently seen in the case of “researchers” who steal from multiple repositories in a specific area or from a certain type of collection.

Trade shows, public auctions, and events provide another market for missing items. While perhaps the least efficient approach to recovering items, attending these events provides the advantage of interacting with sellers. Once there, you can browse their booths and exhibits, discuss the problem of historical records theft with them, and share the experience of your organization and your contact information, while establishing important relationships for the future.