Monday, April 23, 2007

Using Search Engines to find your ancestors

One of the major tools that we can use to find ancestors on web pages is a Search Engine - like Google, Dogpile or several others.

I will use Google as an example (at

Let's say you are searching for information about and ancestor named Isaac Seaver.

1) If you input the two words isaac and seaver into the Google search engine, you will get web pages with the two words on the same page - over 78,000 hits. Many of the hits may be where the two words are not used together but with, say, Isaac Smith" and "Tom Seaver" on the web page. Some of the hits do relate to genealogy, most of them do not. That is way too many to try to find the nugget you may be searching for about Isaac. Rather than spend a lot of time clicking on every hit, you can reduce the number of hits and improve the quality of them.

2) You can reduce the number of hits, and increase the quality of the results, by putting the two words in quotes - as in "isaac seaver." The search engine will find those two words in that exact order - there are now only 105 hits, and most of them relate to genealogy.

3) If you want to reduce the search to find Isaac Seaver, born in 1823 in Westminster MA, you could use the search terms "isaac seaver" westminster which results in 45 hits, or "isaac seaver" 1823 which results in 43 hits, or even "isaac seaver" 1823 westminster and you get only 26 hits. All of these hits apply to Isaac of Westminster born in 1823.

4) If there are still to many hits for the person you are searching for, then you could add a spouse's name, e.g.: "isaac seaver" "lucretia smith" - that results in only 5 hits, all pertaining to the correct Isaac Seaver.

5) Remember that there are many databases with lists in alphabetical surname-first order - for instance, cemetery listings, land record indexes, etc. So you should always consider a last name first scenario - like "seaver isaac" - which results in 7 hits.

6) Many names include a middle name or initial, so you should also consider using a wild card for the middle name. For example - "isaac * seaver" where the asterisk * means one or more words in between isaac and seaver, results in 9 hits.

7) If the surname is fairly common, or if there are some famous people with the surname, you can use the advanced search capability in Google (at to eliminate certain hits. for instance, Tom Seaver was a famous baseball pitcher, so if I search for "tom seaver" I get 294,000 hits, most of which deal with baseball. If I use the search string "tom seaver" and not "baseball," then I get 45,000 hits. [Note that Google is different in this aspect from some other search engines which use the Boolean operator NOT to do the same thing.]

Check out all of the search capabilities on the advanced search page.

The Google search engine will find names in the Rootsweb mailing lists and message boards, but not the Genforum message boards. It will also find people in the Rootsweb WorldConnect database, but not in the or LDS databases.

Google searches more than web pages. If you go to the "more" link on the main page of Google you will get to the web page. Here you can see a list of what Google can search for you - News, Blogs, Images, Patents, Books, Catalogs, directories, Finances, Maps, Scholarly Works, Videos, and many more things. If you are on a web site with many pages of information, you can search the web site by inputting site: before your search string. For instance, on the CV Genealogy Cafe blog site, you could put the search string site: "research group" into the Google search engine and see the hits that include the search string "research group.".

Google is really amazing! It is a necessary tool in the researchers toolbox.

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