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Smart and Effective Web Searching

In addition to searching online genealogy databases, it is also wise to conduct intelligent searching of the Internet through search engines.


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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by:
Word Count: 644 (approx.)
Labels: Beginner's Guide 
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A Basic Approach

I nearly always start my search in one of the main online genealogy databases. As we exhaust those resources, it is a good strategy to expand the search to the general web through a search engine. Thousands of results may feel overwhelming; thus, a wise approach is to start with a narrow, more refined search and then expand the search slowly.

Some Search Ideas

The following ideas are to help spark your intuition. These types of searches can be combined and refined in many different approaches.

1. Try a general search using terms like "genealogy" or "family history" with the chosen surname.
2. Search for both the individual's first and last name as a phrase. Example: "Bathsheba Johnson"
3. Try to search for the family surname with the county name or town name. If it is an uncommon county/town name there is no need to include the state. Example: Deaver Duplin
4. Search for two or more related surnames, perhaps in conjunction with a locality. Example: Pressgrove Rice Tallahatchie

Some Tips

The following tips will help refine your searches and help you become a better web searcher.

1. Don't limit yourself to only one search engine. The top search engines are Google, Yahoo! Search, and MSN. Also try Ask Jeeves, Gigablast, Vivisimo, and other less familiar search engines.

2. Be sure to always check out the Advanced Search features of any search engine.

3. Put the most important words first in your search expression. This should help rank more relevant pages near the top of your search results.

4. Just like in database searching, never assume the spelling of your ancestor's name. Try different spelling variants to expand your results. Consider using initial(s) for first and middle name.

I found a treasure when I expanded a search to include misspellings of my ancestor, Joseph Scollick. I tried misspelling his name in a number of ways and found a great hit using "Schollick." Here's a wonderful photograph found at the Library of Congress:

5. When searching for a female ancestor, conduct at least two searches - one with her married name and one with her maiden name. In an online cemetery or census index, she will often be listed by her married name

6. Insert a full-word wildcard symbol to allow for middle name or middle initial. A wildcard is a special symbol - usually an asterisk ("*") - that stands for a word (or initial). Your ancestor may have used an initial or a maiden name as a middle name; or perhaps you are not sure if he even had a middle name.
Example: "Granville * Morrison" [results will include Granville Price Morrison, Granville P. Morrison, Granville Dula Morrison, etc.]

7. Use phrase searching to limit your search and be sure to reverse the order of the names. Your ancestor may be listed in an index with the surname first. Also be sure to check for both married and maiden names. For instance if I were to search for Elizabeth Brenneman (married to Johannes Quickel), I would conduct all of these searches (it might seem like a lot, but it's worth it).
"Elizabeth Brenneman"
"Elizabeth * Brenneman"
(if wildcards work in the chosen search engine)
"Elizabeth Quickel"
"Elizabeth * Quickel"
"Quickel Elizabeth"
"Brenneman Elizabeth"

8. Limit your search to a particular domain. For instance, you may want to search only RootsWeb resources. Your search could look something like this: Quickel

9. For efficient searching, take notes of where you looked and what terms and operators you used in your search. You do not want to waste time and repeat the same searches in a single session, but you may want to duplicate these same searches six months later. Search engines are continuously adding websites to their indexes.

Search engines mentioned in this article:

Google Google
Yahoo! Search
Ask Jeeves

For Futher Reading:

Search Engine Showdown
Google Guide
Calishain, Tara. Web Search Garage. Upper Saddle River, NJ : Prentice Hall PTR, c2005.For

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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