Google the Search Engine
A search engine is like a card catalog system for the Internet. You choose a search engine and then type in a word, phrase, or a series of words and wait to see what web pages match your search. There are different types of search engines but according to the web site Howstuffworks, http://www.howstuffworks.com/search-engine.htm, they all basically do the same three things: they search the web for words; they keep an index of words and where they find them; and they allow users to look for words or phrases in their index.
From Google's home page, www.google.com, you can type in a word, series of words, or a phrase and then click on the "Google Search" button or the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button. The "Google Search" button will bring up page(s) of links with web sites that match what you have typed in, these matches also called "hits". It may not be a perfect match or what you are looking for, but it will be web sites that contain the word(s) that you have typed in. The "I'm Feeling Lucky" button will just bring up a highly relevant web site and not a list of "hits". Also, know that words or phrases you place in quotation marks will specify that you want results that show that exact phrase. For example, if you are searching for your great aunt Mabel James, by placing the name in quotations "Mabel James" you will get results that contain those two words together, instead of web sites that have the name Mabel and the name James somewhere on the page, but not necessarily together.
You can click on the Advanced Search to make your search term a little more specific. You can tell Google to search all words or a certain phrase or even eliminate other words. For example, maybe you want to search for Boone County but do not want hits for Daniel Boone. Through the Advanced Search you can also specify how many hits are shown on each page, your preferred language, types of file, conducta a search within a specific web site.
For more information about getting the most of your Google search, check out Kathi Reid's article entitled, "Tips for using Google in Genealogy Searches" on the web site Ancestor Search at http://www.searchforancestors.com/archives/google.html.
Google's home page also contains a link for Preferences where you can specify that you prefer your results to be in a certain language and even choose a filter to block explicit materials.
Google Maps is really more than just a tool for finding an address. Google Maps has become a tool not only for finding an address but viewing a picture of what is at that address. Google Maps can be accessed from the Google home page by clicking on the "Maps" link at the top left of your screen. Once you are at the Google Maps page, click on the button that says "Street View." You will see a United States map showing a number of camera graphics; these graphics indicate places where Google has sent cars with cameras to photograph the streets and structures on the street. What does this mean for your genealogy? As Google photographs more areas, you will be able to put in your ancestor's address and see if their house is still there. So here's how it works. Type in an address in the Google box next to the button "Search Maps." I went ahead and used an address for one of my ancestors that I found while looking over their California Voter Registration. You will then be shown a box with the address and if there is a picture available you will see a little thumbnail of that picture that you can then click on and look at. Now, these pictures are not high resolution so zooming in will not necessarily provide you with a clear image. Also, you can turn the image so that you can see basically the whole street at a 360 degree view. Please note that the address you type in may not be the picture of the exact house you are looking for. I know in the case of my house and that of a few others I talked to, our addresses brought up neighbors two houses up from us. But, overall, this is a great tool for "visiting" your ancestor's home and neighborhood. For more on using this feature see http://local.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=68476.
Another Google Map site that combines pictures is called Panoramio, http://www.panoramio.com/. This site was purchased by Google and combines maps with user-submitted pictures of places found at different locations. Please note that pictures of people are not available at this site. This is a free site but does require you to register in order to submit pictures and to correspond with other users. As an example, type in the phrase Salt Lake City, Utah in the search box on Panoramio's web site. You will then be directed to another page that shows an aerial photo of Salt Lake City with small thumbnails of pictures, supposedly placed in the exact location where they were taken. You will also notice on the left side of the screen, a group of photos that you can click on and view. This is a handy web site for situations where you may have an ancestor from a far off place, or maybe even not too far off, and you would like to see what it looks like. You might even find that someone has submitted a picture of your ancestor's church or school. Submitters of pictures are the ones who indicate to what address the picture belongs, so this many not always be one hundred percent accurate. Panoramio has a blog that you can peruse to keep you updated. It can be found at http://www.panoramio.com/blog/ .