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Genealogy Toolkit

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How to Use Google for Genealogy

Google is arguably the world's largest search engine. As of Apr 2018, 76.48% of all searches were powered by Google[1], and with 1.6 billion estimated unique monthly visitors, it is safe to say that Google is an obvious starting point for genealogy researchers.

What many don't know about search engines, including Google, is that they work on what is known as "fuzzy logic". Through the use of fuzzy searches, Google is able to offer results for "Yugoslavia" even though you typed in "Yougasalavia".[2]

This fuzzy searching algorithm, although useful in most day-to-day situations, has one major downfall - the return of both relevant and irrelevant results (all dependant on how the search was performed and how strong the search algorithm is). When you know exactly what you are looking for, it can be quite a task to decipher which results are relevant to your search.

Below I have compiled a listing of Google Search Operators to help in your genealogical search.

Search Operators

Search Operations Table

Search Operator Finds results Example Usage More Information
Word1 Word2 that contain both Word1 and Word2 Los Angeles California Basic search function
“phrase“  that contain the exact phrase, proper name, or a set of words to find that are in a specific order “Jaramy Smith”  Use Quotes
Words1 * Words2 that contain the phrase (enclosed in quotes), where the * can replaced by one or more words “Google * my life”  Use Wildcards
number1..number2 that contain a number in the specified range Chris Whitten 1920..1950 Search Within a Range of Numbers
-Word1 that do not contain Word1 twins minnesota -baseball  Exclude Unwanted Words
~Word1 that contain Word1 or one of its synonyms google ~guide  Synonym Searches
Word1 OR Word2
Word1 | Word2"
that contain either Word1, Word2 or both Word1 and Word2 Texas OR Louisiana
Texas | Louisiana"
Alternate Searches

Use Quotes

By putting a phrase or name in quotes, you are telling Google to search for an exact match instead of using fuzzy logic. This can be quite useful when searching uncommon name spellings.
Examples:
  • A search for Jaramy will produce a warning from Google - Did you mean: Jeremy , as well as offer you a YouTube music video for either Firma's "JaraMy" or if you are lucky, Pearl Jam's "Jeremy"
  • A search for Jaramy Smith would return the warning - Showing results for Jeremy Smith .
Note: Google uses specific algorithms to determine the most useful and relevant search results, that also contain learning features. Repeated searches for the same or variant queries will alter how warnings are displayed.
While Google will also give you the option in most cases to perform a search based on the name you entered, as you spelled it, it is only displayed as a secondary option and the results returned will not be the same as an "exact" search.
In order to bypass the extra clicking and trying to tell Google what you are looking for, try using quotes around your search query instead. For example, you could use "Jaramy" Smith or "Jaramy Smith" .
Google also ignores common words in English and other languages (referred to as stop words), such as "the" (or the Spanish equivalent "la"). To prevent a stop word from being omitted from results, use quotes!
As an example - The search for contractors in central la california will not only return some results you would expect (from Central Los Angeles, California), but will also return results from the region of Central California, which is around 100 miles away. Instead, you can use contractors from central "la" california to force Google to include the term.

Use Wildcards

Used with quotes, the asterisk (*) serves as a wildcard in Google searches. Each asterisk can represent one or more words.
As an example - A search for "Google * my life" may return any number of results, such as those fitting Google is my life, How to kick Google out of my life", etc.

Search Within a Range of Numbers

By using the .. operator, you can search for a term or name within a specific time period.
As an example, you can performs a search for a person containing a date between a specific set of years - Chris Whitten 1920..1950

Exclude Unwanted Words

If you have ever run into cases of irrelevant search results, the "not" (-) operator can come in quite handy by narrowing your search results by specifically excluding certain results.
As an example, searching Google for Chris Whitten will come up tons of results, including the British session drummer. In our case, we are interested in another Chris Whitten, so we can exclude results for drummers by adding the "not" operator - Chris Whitten -drummer.
The "not" operator can also be used multiple times in order to further narrow your results: Chris Whitten -christopher -drummer -golf. In this example, we are looking for the name Chris Whitten, and excluding any matches that contain 'christopher', 'drummer' or 'golf'.

Synonym Searches

The tilde (~) operator is one of the lesser known operators, but comes in handy when you know how to apply it. The ~ notifies Google to specifically search for synonyms of the connected word that follows, in order to broaden your search results.
As an example, instead of searching exclusively for 'John Doe birth', you could broaden your search to include all birth synonyms - John Doe ~birth, which also includes records that mention John Doe and the words 'birth', 'born', 'delivered', etc.

Alternate Searches

The OR and pipe (|) operators can be used to specific specific synonyms or alternatives you wish to search for, and interacts with the word adjacent to the operator.
As an example, if you had found reference to an ancestor having been born in Texas, but later died in Louisiana - you can can search for the ancestor without limiting your search to records that contain both locations. To broaden your search, you could then use John Doe Texas | Louisiana or John Doe Texas OR Louisiana. This search will then find all matching records for either "John Doe Texas" or "John Doe Louisiana".

Google Site Search

This allows you to search just one domain, not the entire internet, for a particular search term.

  1. Go to Google.com
  2. Enter in the search box: site:xxx zzz
    • xxx represent the website, where zzz represents the search term
    • Example[3]: site:wikitree.com Stoke Hammond

Google Advanced Search

For anyone who wants to take full of advantage of Google Search Operators, through a user-friendly interface, be sure to check out the Google Advanced Search form. With this form, many search operators can be combined in a simple and easy to use format that takes the guesswork out advanced operator techniques.

Google Search Alerts

For those who wish take genealogy to the next level, consider diving into Google Alerts. With Google Alerts, you can get email notifications when a new item matches you search criteria. Combine this with the above [#Search Operators|Search Operators], and you can narrow down the type of results you get, fine-tuning the information you receive to ensure they are relevant to you.

Genealogy Research Sites

  1. American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Cemeteries & Memorials
  2. Chronicling America Large database of archived US newspapers from the Library of Congress
  3. Archive.org - Comprehensive search of Web, Text, Video, Audio, Software and Images. Not very useful on individuals (unless they are notable), but an excellent resource for locations and full census records
  4. Fold 3 Historical Military Records
  5. Google News Archive Millions of archived newspaper pages
  6. Immigrant Ancestors Project provided by the Center for Family History and Genealogy
  7. National Center for Health Statistics - Where to write for Vital Statistics (Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Certificates) by State (United States only)
  8. Newspapers.com The largest online newspaper archive
  9. U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center Digital Collections
  10. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, Nationwide Gravesite Locator
  11. U.S. National Archives - Note: The following links are ones that I have bookmarked for my own 'quick access'. If the links below are not what you are looking for, visit the main U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Access to Archival Databases (AAD)[4].
  12. U.S. National Park Service - Soldiers and Sailors Database

Sources

  1. NET MARKETSHARE. Market Share Statistics for Internet Technologies - Search Engine Market Share.
  2. Google Search Help. Tip 4: Don't worry about the little things.
  3. [https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/646939/which-is-more-useful-a-place-category-or-a-text-search Stoke Hammond
  4. aad.archive.gov The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Access to Archival Databases (AAD)




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