Doing Good Family History Web Searches
By Mark D Jordan
Genealogy is one of those hobbies or professions where you need to know how to conduct a good on-line search. In this article we will be talking about using Google to do searches for genealogy research, but much of this philosophy will apply for searching on Yahoo, MSN or Bing as well.
Genealogy is one of those areas where you can not do a search on a particular term and only look at the first 10 results presented back to you by Google. It can’t be emphasized enough that you have to dig deeper, at least down to the 20th page of returned results to get information you may need. Numerous times when doing searches on the internet, good information can be found on page 20 yet not on page 1 or 2 of the returned results. Many genealogists who create web pages for their business or personal use are not optimizing their sites for the search engines such as Google, so their pages or sites will not come up near the top of search results. Don’t automatically assume that Google or any search engine does a great job presented the results on page 1, when it comes to genealogy searches.
As well, to get better results for your genealogy quests you need to format your search several ways. This is best demonstrated by an example. Let’s say you wanted genealogy information on Robert Jordan in Chowan County North Carolina in the 1700’s. How would you search for this using Google?
Below are various ways you might type the search query into the search box of Google (number of returned results are shown). It is important to try the various ways of searching to pull in different results. Don’t just try one way of searching and walk away. The results returned below by Google on the first page were not the same, so my query did return different results even on the first page. Searches are not case sensitive so you do not have to capitalize the name. “robert jordan” will return the same results as “Robert Jordan”.
To look for a range of dates type two periods in-between as shown below. Quotes mean return only that exact phrase in that word order. Google implies an “and” between spaced out words, so there is no reason to type in the word “and.” As well a “+” use to act like an “and” but no longer does. Typing “robert jordan”+”chowan county” returns the same as just leaving a space between the phrases. Google puts more weight on the first words in the search so “robert jordan” has the most weight.
“robert jordan” “chowan county” “north carolina” 1700..1799 (24 results)
robert jordan chowan north carolina 1700..1799 (17100 results)
robert jordan chowan carolina 1700’s (16100 results)
“robert Jordan” chowan carolina 1700’s (6140 results)
I’m sure you can come up with a few more combinations. If I were searching for this information I would perform all of the searches above, and maybe more, to try and find different information located on the deeper pages past page 10 as well as on page 1. Google can’t possibly read every web page in existence to get the results you want so you have to “tweak” it to get better results, and that requires formatting your queries in different ways, and hopefully pulling up hidden gems. Good luck in your genealogy searches.
For more information on genealogy related topics and family history go to Family History Research. The author, Mark D. Jordan, writes on a variety of genealogy topics from his home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.