Searching with Search Engines

by Ruby Coleman

Search engines are helpful for a smooth navigation of Internet. Using them you can search for words, phrases, and combinations of each. It would be difficult to locate web pages without search engines ... much like using a large book that has no index or table of contents.

Portals and link web sites, such as Cyndi's List at, provide hot links to genealogical and historical web pages. Even so many genealogically related web pages never find their way to these link sites. Researchers can find even more by using a search engine and being creative in the search process.

It is a good idea to use more than one search engine. Information varies between the search engines. Keep track of the search engine you have used, what you requested and the date. Search for the same information again at a later date when new web pages may be listed. Some of the popular search engines on Internet include:

  • AlltheWeb
  • Alta Vista
  • Yahoo!
  • Webcrawler
  • Lycos
  • HotBot
  • Excite
  • Northern Light
  • AccuFind
  • Dogpile
  • MetaCrawler
  • AskJeeves

A popular search engine for genealogists is From the main web page at, click on Advanced Search. There are four methods for searching:

  1. with all the words
  2. with the exact phrase
  3. with at least one of the words
  4. without the words

There are other options, such as selecting updates in the last three months, six months or year. If you are looking for a specific title of a web page, be sure to look at the occurrences button. For more intensive research, you can even select the language of the web page.

Clicking on Language Tools produces options for having a web page or text from a web page translated. For example, text can be translated from German into England, French into English, Spanish into English, Portuguese into English, and Italian into English and vice versa.

The following are ideas for beginning your search. Try varying names and identifying information, leaving out information and use some of these ideas with other search engines. It is also a good idea to check Google Help Central for their tips for searching.

  1. Fill in your ancestor's full name in the "exact phrase" box.
  2. Search
  1. Fill in your ancestor's full name in the "exact phrase" box; add a location or other identifying information in "with all the words" box.
  2. Search
  1. Fill in an ancestral surname in the "exact phrase" box; add "genealogy" in the "with all the words" box.
  2. Search

Sometimes less is more! Experimenting with the full name of a deceased relative, different returns were presented when his middle initial was left out. Even more web pages turned up when an identifier was added, such as occupation or location.

Another Google search feature is Google Groups. This can be found at Typing "genealogy" into the search box after group:* will produce approximately 1,200,000 results. Browsing through a return such as this takes a good deal of time. To refine your search, omit the group:* and type in a word or phrase, such as "Illinois genealogy." With thousands more returns, consider using the Advanced Groups Search.

It is estimated that none of the search engines index more than 20% to 25% of the existing web pages. Even so, hours of searching can be accomplished, sometimes with excellent results, by using search engines. There is always plenty to be found on Internet, particularly for the genealogist.

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