You are here because you want to know how this popular search engine can help you with your ancestry research. In this post, I will share with you my top genealogy search tips that I have learned. So if you want to get the most out of this hobby then please read.
Fact-finding online is a far easier process for you than to travel the countryside to collect information about your ancestors.
You can gather all sorts of useful information by using your computer, all within the comfort of your own home.
Before the Internet
Before the Internet came into our homes and our lives family history research was a lot of work.
We had to travel to libraries and the local archives to find out information on our ancestors.
Once we had arrived at our destination we then had to sift through all of the volumes and volumes of records.
We would probably spend hours upon hours tirelessly going through what seemed to be the same old information.
All of these hours would amount to just one piece of the puzzle that would connect us to our ancestors.
And even then we may have not found anything at all. What a waste of time, hey?
Traveling the countryside looking for clues
If we wanted to see where our ancestors lived and worked we had to get in the car and try and navigate the countryside.
We may not even have found what we were looking for anyway.
This could either be put down to poor map-reading skills or redevelopment of the area.
This doesn’t seem too bad really as we could see for ourselves the places that shaped our ancestors’ lives.
However, if we already had our notes and our lunches ready for the day then this could all be spoilt by the rain.
This would ultimately stop us in our tracks. We would then have to just stay at home and try and do something else with our family history.
Watch this Google video
Before I present you with my top tips I would just like to share with you a short video that I have found useful.
Please check out the following 10-minute video from The Google Genealogist. In the video, you will learn some interesting Google facts, as well as a presentation on how to do some genealogy searches.
Credit: The Google Genealogist
One last point!
I do want to make one last point before you continue reading this post. Before you perform a Google search for your ancestors you may want to just check first that you already have the information.
Check what sources of information that you have at home. There may be documents, records, and letters at home that will be useful to you.
And please interview your relatives. They will be of great use to you and can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
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How Google Operates
If you’ve ever used Google before then you will know that once you’ve hit the Enter button then you will be presented with millions of hits.
Whatever you enter matters
Anything that you type in the search bar will produce a hit, i.e. a site that contains all or some of the words that you have entered.
The most relevant site will be listed at the top. This is because it contains all of the words.
Hits fewer down the list of results will continue fewer words in your search term.
The next point that I want to make is that it doesn’t matter whether you search for a key phrase in lower or uppercase.
For example, if you enter john couch wales, or John Couch Wales, both search terms will give the same number of hits.
So you can save yourself a little time by not capitalizing your search words.
The order matters
Google will try to list the sites first that contain all of your search words. And then the least relevant words will appear further down the list.
It is important to type in the most important words at the beginning of your search term.
With this said john couch wales, and wales john couch will produce different results. So it’s important to type in the person’s name in the search bar.
Google has different domain names. If you are in the United States then the default address will be set to www.google.com. And if you are in the United Kingdom then the address will be www.google.co.uk.
If you are searching for your UK ancestors then it will be best to go to the relevant domain. Doing this will mean you will get results faster.
Advanced Search Techniques
Use quotation marks
My first example john couch wales produced many results. And mostly they were irrelevant to my search.
To filter out these bad results you could use quotation marks.
So for this example, I could use “john couch wales“.
Exclude the unwanted
Another tip that you can use is to use the minus sign, -, in your search term. Using this symbol will cut out results that you do not want to see.
For example, you could perform the following search, “john couch” 1900 wales -cardiff.
This search will find people in Wales with the name John Couch, and with 1900 featured somewhere within the result. The search term will eliminate results from Cardiff.
Include the unknown
The spelling of your ancestor may be different depending on where you are looking.
The surname of my ancestor was incorrectly transcribed as Cauch. Because of this error, it did take me a while to find him.
For this example, I could use “john c*uch” wales. This could then give me information for John Cauch, or John Couch.
This is a great way to find your ancestors if they have been misspelled in the records.
You may want to search for an ancestor but you are unsure where your ancestor came from. For this tip, you could OR within the search term.
For example, searching for “john couch” cardiff OR london would retrieve results from either Cardiff or London.
Search AROUND the term
This is a great technique that I have recently discovered. When you Google search for your ancestor you may not find exactly what you want.
For example, if you search for “john couch” 1900 wales, Google will try to search for pages where the name john couch appears right next to the year 1900.
Try instead to use the AROUND feature. Here you can search for “john couch” AROUND(10) 1900 wales.
This will give you results where the year appears within ten words of the person that you are looking for, John Couch in this example.
Add a date range
You may not know when your ancestor was born but have a fair idea about when it could be. Google is great because you can use a date range when searching.
For example, you could search for “john couch” 1900..1905 cardiff. This will give us all results featuring this name and within the years 1900 to 1905.
The tilde symbol, ~, can be used to include more results that could prove helpful.
For example, you could search for “john couch” london ~death. Conducting this search will give you death records, obituaries, or funeral notices.
It’s worth trying, just in case you do happen to get another piece of information about your ancestor that you were not expecting.
Search page titles
The examples I have given above may give you results where your ancestor is included along with other people.
And you may have to scroll through the linked page to find your ancestor.
A useful trick is to use the allintitle command.
For example, allintitle “john couch” will give you results where John Couch is in in the name of the webpage.
This technique may give you more in-depth information about your ancestor. But you may also miss out on results as well.
There are plenty of genealogy sites that you can use to search for your ancestors. But you may not want to leave the Google search platform.
In this instance, you can use the “site:SITEURL” function.
For example, site:familysearch.org “john couch” will give you all results with the name John Couch within the Family Search genealogy site.
You can get more help from Google by using their Advanced Search feature. I have found a really helpful guide to using this feature over at the Genealogy In Time website.
The guide, Hot Tips on How to Use Google for Genealogy Searches, goes more into detail.
Hopefully, these tips here will help you get more out of Google. There may be circumstances where you won’t be able to find what you are looking for.
This is maybe for two reasons:
- The information that you are seeking has not been uploaded yet to the Internet.
- The information does not even exist, maybe what you are searching for has been destroyed in a fire or flood.
If you cannot find what you are looking for then try different search terms before you give up.
Try to be specific with your query, to begin with, and if that doesn’t work then broaden your search.
For example, if “john couch” 1900 cardiff does not give you results then try “john couch” 1900 wales instead.
Try variations with your search. You could try different spellings of your ancestor or just use the wildcard character.
Google is a great tool, but only if you know how to use it. Try using the tips I have explained above.
And one further tip. You can use a combination of these tips whenever you perform a Google search.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
I hope you enjoyed reading this post giving you my top genealogy search tips. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.
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2 thoughts on “Top Google Genealogy Search Tips”
Owain, great article you have here, I am a technical guy, I know a lot about searching using Google and it’s features and still I stumble upon new techniques or missing knowledge that I forgot or don’t know in that area. For instance the date range filter capability you described above.
Researching for my masters taught me a lot about using google search features to our advantage and many users who actually use Google on a daily basis don’t know about the full potential that they are missing out there.
I am curious to know more about how that is used to research family history, I’d have to assume that such information is public for it to work.
Thanks for commenting Salim.
Actually, some Google search features did surprise me when compiling this how-to post. But I am always surprised as to what I uncover with genealogy. So maybe I should have expected this.
Google can help genealogy research. So it was worth checking the most popular search engine first before going to a paid search site.