How to Start
Links to 11 great sites
Grandfathers in Queries
Beginning Internet Skills
Off the web
People after 1900
The LDS 1880
Googling your Ancestors
Main Genealogy Page
Essays on Genealogy
(Portions of this article appeared in RootsWeb Review, 30 April 2003, Vol. 6, No. 18. The editor had to cut out some parts to save space. She did a great job, but the stuff about the plus signs got left on the cutting room floor.)
This will be new and exciting to some of you. If, however, you already use exact phrases in Google.com to hunt for your ancestors, this will be duller than yesterday's news. You can use the navigation bar to the left to try another page.
Before we start, a convention. I'm going to use [square brackets] to show you what
to enter in Google. So,
If you get a million hits with relatively rare names, it could mean the
search engine needs plus signs:
A warning; use what we used to call "double quotes" ("), not the single quote that can also be an apostrophe ('). You'll have to use the shift key to get them.
A second warning; these are all the same person, but, to a search engine,
in quotes, they are different:
If your search engine needs plus signs,
Look back to the paragraph about Thomas Edison. If your ancestors are listed
last name first, the arguments above won't get them. You won't find them if they
have middle initials on the page, either. This is a combination of exact phrase
and any match, which sometimes
General search engines are not perfect. They don't have a soundex option, although Google will sometimes suggest alternate spellings for you. In my example, I'd try for "MacCorkle", "Elkweed" and "Pomroy" as well. General search engines work best for relatively uncommon names. If you are looking for John Smith and Mary Johnson, you'll get a lot of hits, but your chances of getting the right one are slim.
I try to broaden or narrow the arguments until I get 1 - 20 hits. If you get more than 200 you are either related to Cary Grant or you have ancestors with popular names. You can add middle names, birth years, states, towns and the words "History", "Family" and "Genealogy" to narrow your search. Google must have a limit to how many words you can use in your search, somewhere, but it is more than 16.
Most importantly and worth repeating, the phrase "Eltweed Pomeroy" is NOT the same as the phrase "Pomeroy, Eltweed", to a search engine. You get what you ask for. Quite often I don't get any, but I'd rather get a few of the right hits than a thousand wrong ones. In my example, I would try all of these arguments:
Four pairs of exact phrases:
Four combination searches:
And, just in case one of them was listed somewhere without a spouse,
After a while you'll get a feel for how many arguments you need. The rarer the names, the less arguments you need. Sometimes a surname and a county work wonders; sometimes a surname and an occupation; sometimes an exact phrase and an historical fact. ("Palmer Cady" Revolutionary). Sometimes you can find a single individual with an exact phrase, especially if you have a middle name. Give Google a try; have fun and happy hunting!