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Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Apr 16, 2015

ShortCuts to Googling Success in Genealogy

by Cindy Carman

My husband says that he could search Google all day and not find the information he wants, but that I can search for 10 minutes and voila there is the page with the exact information for which he was searching. Here are the most successful shortcuts which I use in my Genealogy Google searches.

I search for genealogy data several hours everyday and Google is a big part of my searching strategy. Google has indexed a good 50% of the internet. Some say it is more like 75%. That doesn't mean that all of the genealogical pages that are available have been indexed by Google, nor does it mean that every word on a page has been indexed by Google. So keep searching even the same search done on a different computer can yield different results. You'll see what I mean as I explain the various nuances of the Goggle search.

Shortcut #1

If you are searching for a person, put their first and last name together as a phrase in quotes and then enter the word genealogy. There is no need to capitalize nor to put in any punctuation. Google just ignores it. If you don't add the word genealogy, Google will think you are searching for a living person and will display Facebook pages, LinkedIn, or any other social media page which includes that name. Google is smart enough to know that genealogy means family history, roots, ancestry, and numerous other synonyms. This type of search will yield pages with genealogy queries about the name you are searching, descendancy charts which include the name, and generally any page that Google has identified as a family history page and that has the person's name on it as well.

As you look through the results you may see FindAGrave, MyTrees.com, Genealogy.com, Rootsweb, Ancestry.com, and many others. You may also see a few sites that are based on the Social Security Death Index only. At this point in our process, though, you will probably still get way too many hits. However Google uses an intelligent sort so the best match for your search is usually the first in the list.

Here is an example of a search I did for John Beals:
The very first link has the exact information for which I was searching.

Shortcut #2

Shortcut 2 in the process is to add just one of these additional pieces of data to the search.

  • the birth year
  • the death year
  • a spouse's name
  • a sibling's name
  • even a parent's name if you have it.

The most helpful piece of data to enter would be the piece of data that would more uniquely define the search. For instance, if I were looking for the marriage date of John Beals to Sarah Bowater, I would enter Sarah's last name Bowater to the search. This is a fairly unique piece of data which refines the search and provides a more targeted result.

Here is an example of a search I did for John Beals genealogy after adding Bowater:

I really hit the jackpot! The first five links are right on target and give the marriage date as Married: 8/14/1711 Chester MM, Chester County, Pennsylvania. "The Bowater Family" pdf by Bill Putman is particularly detailed and says that Sarah Bowater was married:
"First to John Beals on September 14, 1711 in Chester County. John died in Frederick County, Virginia in 1746. Sarah remarried on February 2, 1748 to Alexander Underwood in Monocacy, Prince George's County, Maryland. After he died she moved with one of her children to York County, Pennsylvania where she died in 1765."

Shortcut #2 addendum
Notice I did not mention adding a place name to the search yet. It has been my experience that often place names on webpages are not consistent enough to be reliable. Also, confusion can occur because of place name abbreviations and similarities. If after entering several of the items from the list in "Shortcut #2" I still get too many unrelated results I then will enter a place name as part of the search.

Adding the middle initial to the target name can also help Google weed out the less attractive hits but it also may eliminate correct hits.

Shortcut #3

Get rid of unrelated results by adding a minus sign in front of the names, words, website, or phrase that just doesn't apply to the ancestor you are seeking. If, for instance, your ancestor's name and date triggers Google to display an unrelated website link, look for a unique word in the text of the unrelated link that Google displays and eliminate that particular result from the search by adding the unique word with a minus sign in front of it to the search. I often eliminate the websites containing the word wiki and geni, because I haven't found the data on these sites helpful.

Shortcut #4

Search from a different computer - perhaps your laptop or a library computer. Google stores a lot of information about your previous searches and prejudices your results to reflect those old searches. This may be interfering with getting the best result for your current genealogical search.

Shortcut #5

Do not rely on Google to find results in the deep web. The deep web includes sites like FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, MyTrees.com, and FindMyPast.com. Although some of the data from these sites have been indexed by Google, there is just too much data for Google to index it all, or the sites have only provided Google access to index a portion of the data. You can however search each of these sites without registering for their services.

Shortcut #6

Include words that depict the type of record for which you are searching. I normally search for obituaries or cemetery records because they give many references about family relationships and dates. The most helpful words to narrow a result when searching for a death record or obituary are:

  • cemetery
  • tombstone
  • obituary
  • survived
  • preceded
  • "son of" or "daughter of"
  • "wife of" or "husband of"
For best results add only one of these terms at a time to the Google search.

It might be helpful for you to read the previous MyTrees.com article "Finding Obituaries Online".

Shortcut #7

If a link in the Google result won't display, try clicking the small down arrow at the end of the URL link of the result. If you hover your mouse over this arrow, you will see the word "Cache". Clicking this arrow will display the page as it looked when Google last indexed it. Click the "Text only" link in the cached page display, if the page still has problems displaying. When the page displays, use the "Find" feature that is usually part of your browser's Edit menu to find the text for which you are searching.

Shortcut #8

Finding the pages that have disappeared from the Internet:
If, when you have clicked a Google result link, the page will not display or you get a page that does not contain the word for which you are searching, and there is no Cache to view the previous indexed page, you probably can still see the old website using the Archive.org "WayBack Machine".

Archive.org, the Internet Archive, is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more. The Archive.org "WayBack Machine" preserves the history of over 456 billion pages on the Internet. A full description of the uses of the "WayBack Machine" is beyond the scope of this article.

Shortcut #9

Use Google to search for vital records. For this shortcut you will need to know the place where your ancestor's vital event occurred. Enter the place name in quotes and the type of record you are seeking into the Google search box. Narrow the search using site:.gov or site:.org if necessary. Results will usually point you to a separate search that is part of the .gov or .org site. Most vital record .gov and .org sites will either have the records indexed so you can order the certificate or they will have a list of genealogy sites that have indexed some of the vital records. These sites are another part of the deep web, because the data is not made available to search engines like Google for indexing. There may be millions of records including images of the original documents in these vital record repositories. An example of such a site is the West Virginia Culture and History Vital Research Records Search. This jurisdiction is placing birth, death, and marriage certificates online so users can search the records and view scanned images of the original documents.

Shortcut #10

Use Google to search for church records. For this shortcut you will need to know the name of the church and its location. Enter the name of the church in quotes, the place name and the type of record for which you are searching.

Some caveats to think about.

This article describes only the Google features I use most often. The Google search has many more features for you to explore.

If you don't find the genealogical information for which you are searching online, don't give up. Keep in mind that a good measure of historical records and genealogies have not yet been preserved in digital form, so searching in old courthouses, cemeteries, libraries and other repositories is still an important part of doing family history research.

Copyright ©: 2015 Cindy Carman. All rights reserved.
No printed reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author.
Links to this article are encouraged.

Newsletters

Select Newsletter by Issue or Topic:

Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Apr 16, 2015

ShortCuts to Googling Success in Genealogy

by Cindy Carman

My husband says that he could search Google all day and not find the information he wants, but that I can search for 10 minutes and voila there is the page with the exact information for which he was searching. Here are the most successful shortcuts which I use in my Genealogy Google searches.

I search for genealogy data several hours everyday and Google is a big part of my searching strategy. Google has indexed a good 50% of the internet. Some say it is more like 75%. That doesn't mean that all of the genealogical pages that are available have been indexed by Google, nor does it mean that every word on a page has been indexed by Google. So keep searching even the same search done on a different computer can yield different results. You'll see what I mean as I explain the various nuances of the Goggle search.

Shortcut #1

If you are searching for a person, put their first and last name together as a phrase in quotes and then enter the word genealogy. There is no need to capitalize nor to put in any punctuation. Google just ignores it. If you don't add the word genealogy, Google will think you are searching for a living person and will display Facebook pages, LinkedIn, or any other social media page which includes that name. Google is smart enough to know that genealogy means family history, roots, ancestry, and numerous other synonyms. This type of search will yield pages with genealogy queries about the name you are searching, descendancy charts which include the name, and generally any page that Google has identified as a family history page and that has the person's name on it as well.

As you look through the results you may see FindAGrave, MyTrees.com, Genealogy.com, Rootsweb, Ancestry.com, and many others. You may also see a few sites that are based on the Social Security Death Index only. At this point in our process, though, you will probably still get way too many hits. However Google uses an intelligent sort so the best match for your search is usually the first in the list.

Here is an example of a search I did for John Beals:
The very first link has the exact information for which I was searching.

Shortcut #2

Shortcut 2 in the process is to add just one of these additional pieces of data to the search.

  • the birth year
  • the death year
  • a spouse's name
  • a sibling's name
  • even a parent's name if you have it.

The most helpful piece of data to enter would be the piece of data that would more uniquely define the search. For instance, if I were looking for the marriage date of John Beals to Sarah Bowater, I would enter Sarah's last name Bowater to the search. This is a fairly unique piece of data which refines the search and provides a more targeted result.

Here is an example of a search I did for John Beals genealogy after adding Bowater:

I really hit the jackpot! The first five links are right on target and give the marriage date as Married: 8/14/1711 Chester MM, Chester County, Pennsylvania. "The Bowater Family" pdf by Bill Putman is particularly detailed and says that Sarah Bowater was married:
"First to John Beals on September 14, 1711 in Chester County. John died in Frederick County, Virginia in 1746. Sarah remarried on February 2, 1748 to Alexander Underwood in Monocacy, Prince George's County, Maryland. After he died she moved with one of her children to York County, Pennsylvania where she died in 1765."

Shortcut #2 addendum
Notice I did not mention adding a place name to the search yet. It has been my experience that often place names on webpages are not consistent enough to be reliable. Also, confusion can occur because of place name abbreviations and similarities. If after entering several of the items from the list in "Shortcut #2" I still get too many unrelated results I then will enter a place name as part of the search.

Adding the middle initial to the target name can also help Google weed out the less attractive hits but it also may eliminate correct hits.

Shortcut #3

Get rid of unrelated results by adding a minus sign in front of the names, words, website, or phrase that just doesn't apply to the ancestor you are seeking. If, for instance, your ancestor's name and date triggers Google to display an unrelated website link, look for a unique word in the text of the unrelated link that Google displays and eliminate that particular result from the search by adding the unique word with a minus sign in front of it to the search. I often eliminate the websites containing the word wiki and geni, because I haven't found the data on these sites helpful.

Shortcut #4

Search from a different computer - perhaps your laptop or a library computer. Google stores a lot of information about your previous searches and prejudices your results to reflect those old searches. This may be interfering with getting the best result for your current genealogical search.

Shortcut #5

Do not rely on Google to find results in the deep web. The deep web includes sites like FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, MyTrees.com, and FindMyPast.com. Although some of the data from these sites have been indexed by Google, there is just too much data for Google to index it all, or the sites have only provided Google access to index a portion of the data. You can however search each of these sites without registering for their services.

Shortcut #6

Include words that depict the type of record for which you are searching. I normally search for obituaries or cemetery records because they give many references about family relationships and dates. The most helpful words to narrow a result when searching for a death record or obituary are:

  • cemetery
  • tombstone
  • obituary
  • survived
  • preceded
  • "son of" or "daughter of"
  • "wife of" or "husband of"
For best results add only one of these terms at a time to the Google search.

It might be helpful for you to read the previous MyTrees.com article "Finding Obituaries Online".

Shortcut #7

If a link in the Google result won't display, try clicking the small down arrow at the end of the URL link of the result. If you hover your mouse over this arrow, you will see the word "Cache". Clicking this arrow will display the page as it looked when Google last indexed it. Click the "Text only" link in the cached page display, if the page still has problems displaying. When the page displays, use the "Find" feature that is usually part of your browser's Edit menu to find the text for which you are searching.

Shortcut #8

Finding the pages that have disappeared from the Internet:
If, when you have clicked a Google result link, the page will not display or you get a page that does not contain the word for which you are searching, and there is no Cache to view the previous indexed page, you probably can still see the old website using the Archive.org "WayBack Machine".

Archive.org, the Internet Archive, is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more. The Archive.org "WayBack Machine" preserves the history of over 456 billion pages on the Internet. A full description of the uses of the "WayBack Machine" is beyond the scope of this article.

Shortcut #9

Use Google to search for vital records. For this shortcut you will need to know the place where your ancestor's vital event occurred. Enter the place name in quotes and the type of record you are seeking into the Google search box. Narrow the search using site:.gov or site:.org if necessary. Results will usually point you to a separate search that is part of the .gov or .org site. Most vital record .gov and .org sites will either have the records indexed so you can order the certificate or they will have a list of genealogy sites that have indexed some of the vital records. These sites are another part of the deep web, because the data is not made available to search engines like Google for indexing. There may be millions of records including images of the original documents in these vital record repositories. An example of such a site is the West Virginia Culture and History Vital Research Records Search. This jurisdiction is placing birth, death, and marriage certificates online so users can search the records and view scanned images of the original documents.

Shortcut #10

Use Google to search for church records. For this shortcut you will need to know the name of the church and its location. Enter the name of the church in quotes, the place name and the type of record for which you are searching.

Some caveats to think about.

This article describes only the Google features I use most often. The Google search has many more features for you to explore.

If you don't find the genealogical information for which you are searching online, don't give up. Keep in mind that a good measure of historical records and genealogies have not yet been preserved in digital form, so searching in old courthouses, cemeteries, libraries and other repositories is still an important part of doing family history research.

Copyright ©: 2015 Cindy Carman. All rights reserved.
No printed reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author.
Links to this article are encouraged.

Newsletters

Select Newsletter by Issue or Topic:

Genealogy HowTo
Issue: Apr 16, 2015

ShortCuts to Googling Success in Genealogy

by Cindy Carman

My husband says that he could search Google all day and not find the information he wants, but that I can search for 10 minutes and voila there is the page with the exact information for which he was searching. Here are the most successful shortcuts which I use in my Genealogy Google searches.

I search for genealogy data several hours everyday and Google is a big part of my searching strategy. Google has indexed a good 50% of the internet. Some say it is more like 75%. That doesn't mean that all of the genealogical pages that are available have been indexed by Google, nor does it mean that every word on a page has been indexed by Google. So keep searching even the same search done on a different computer can yield different results. You'll see what I mean as I explain the various nuances of the Goggle search.

Shortcut #1

If you are searching for a person, put their first and last name together as a phrase in quotes and then enter the word genealogy. There is no need to capitalize nor to put in any punctuation. Google just ignores it. If you don't add the word genealogy, Google will think you are searching for a living person and will display Facebook pages, LinkedIn, or any other social media page which includes that name. Google is smart enough to know that genealogy means family history, roots, ancestry, and numerous other synonyms. This type of search will yield pages with genealogy queries about the name you are searching, descendancy charts which include the name, and generally any page that Google has identified as a family history page and that has the person's name on it as well.

As you look through the results you may see FindAGrave, MyTrees.com, Genealogy.com, Rootsweb, Ancestry.com, and many others. You may also see a few sites that are based on the Social Security Death Index only. At this point in our process, though, you will probably still get way too many hits. However Google uses an intelligent sort so the best match for your search is usually the first in the list.

Here is an example of a search I did for John Beals:
The very first link has the exact information for which I was searching.

Shortcut #2

Shortcut 2 in the process is to add just one of these additional pieces of data to the search.

  • the birth year
  • the death year
  • a spouse's name
  • a sibling's name
  • even a parent's name if you have it.

The most helpful piece of data to enter would be the piece of data that would more uniquely define the search. For instance, if I were looking for the marriage date of John Beals to Sarah Bowater, I would enter Sarah's last name Bowater to the search. This is a fairly unique piece of data which refines the search and provides a more targeted result.

Here is an example of a search I did for John Beals genealogy after adding Bowater:

I really hit the jackpot! The first five links are right on target and give the marriage date as Married: 8/14/1711 Chester MM, Chester County, Pennsylvania. "The Bowater Family" pdf by Bill Putman is particularly detailed and says that Sarah Bowater was married:
"First to John Beals on September 14, 1711 in Chester County. John died in Frederick County, Virginia in 1746. Sarah remarried on February 2, 1748 to Alexander Underwood in Monocacy, Prince George's County, Maryland. After he died she moved with one of her children to York County, Pennsylvania where she died in 1765."

Shortcut #2 addendum
Notice I did not mention adding a place name to the search yet. It has been my experience that often place names on webpages are not consistent enough to be reliable. Also, confusion can occur because of place name abbreviations and similarities. If after entering several of the items from the list in "Shortcut #2" I still get too many unrelated results I then will enter a place name as part of the search.

Adding the middle initial to the target name can also help Google weed out the less attractive hits but it also may eliminate correct hits.

Shortcut #3

Get rid of unrelated results by adding a minus sign in front of the names, words, website, or phrase that just doesn't apply to the ancestor you are seeking. If, for instance, your ancestor's name and date triggers Google to display an unrelated website link, look for a unique word in the text of the unrelated link that Google displays and eliminate that particular result from the search by adding the unique word with a minus sign in front of it to the search. I often eliminate the websites containing the word wiki and geni, because I haven't found the data on these sites helpful.

Shortcut #4

Search from a different computer - perhaps your laptop or a library computer. Google stores a lot of information about your previous searches and prejudices your results to reflect those old searches. This may be interfering with getting the best result for your current genealogical search.

Shortcut #5

Do not rely on Google to find results in the deep web. The deep web includes sites like FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, Rootsweb.com, MyTrees.com, and FindMyPast.com. Although some of the data from these sites have been indexed by Google, there is just too much data for Google to index it all, or the sites have only provided Google access to index a portion of the data. You can however search each of these sites without registering for their services.

Shortcut #6

Include words that depict the type of record for which you are searching. I normally search for obituaries or cemetery records because they give many references about family relationships and dates. The most helpful words to narrow a result when searching for a death record or obituary are:

  • cemetery
  • tombstone
  • obituary
  • survived
  • preceded
  • "son of" or "daughter of"
  • "wife of" or "husband of"
For best results add only one of these terms at a time to the Google search.

It might be helpful for you to read the previous MyTrees.com article "Finding Obituaries Online".

Shortcut #7

If a link in the Google result won't display, try clicking the small down arrow at the end of the URL link of the result. If you hover your mouse over this arrow, you will see the word "Cache". Clicking this arrow will display the page as it looked when Google last indexed it. Click the "Text only" link in the cached page display, if the page still has problems displaying. When the page displays, use the "Find" feature that is usually part of your browser's Edit menu to find the text for which you are searching.

Shortcut #8

Finding the pages that have disappeared from the Internet:
If, when you have clicked a Google result link, the page will not display or you get a page that does not contain the word for which you are searching, and there is no Cache to view the previous indexed page, you probably can still see the old website using the Archive.org "WayBack Machine".

Archive.org, the Internet Archive, is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more. The Archive.org "WayBack Machine" preserves the history of over 456 billion pages on the Internet. A full description of the uses of the "WayBack Machine" is beyond the scope of this article.

Shortcut #9

Use Google to search for vital records. For this shortcut you will need to know the place where your ancestor's vital event occurred. Enter the place name in quotes and the type of record you are seeking into the Google search box. Narrow the search using site:.gov or site:.org if necessary. Results will usually point you to a separate search that is part of the .gov or .org site. Most vital record .gov and .org sites will either have the records indexed so you can order the certificate or they will have a list of genealogy sites that have indexed some of the vital records. These sites are another part of the deep web, because the data is not made available to search engines like Google for indexing. There may be millions of records including images of the original documents in these vital record repositories. An example of such a site is the West Virginia Culture and History Vital Research Records Search. This jurisdiction is placing birth, death, and marriage certificates online so users can search the records and view scanned images of the original documents.

Shortcut #10

Use Google to search for church records. For this shortcut you will need to know the name of the church and its location. Enter the name of the church in quotes, the place name and the type of record for which you are searching.

Some caveats to think about.

This article describes only the Google features I use most often. The Google search has many more features for you to explore.

If you don't find the genealogical information for which you are searching online, don't give up. Keep in mind that a good measure of historical records and genealogies have not yet been preserved in digital form, so searching in old courthouses, cemeteries, libraries and other repositories is still an important part of doing family history research.

Copyright ©: 2015 Cindy Carman. All rights reserved.
No printed reproduction of this article may be used without the express written permission of the author.
Links to this article are encouraged.

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