Ways to supercharge your family history search

Published: Saturday, Aug. 18 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Hundreds of drawers with copies of micro films stand at the Riverton Family Search Library in Riverton, Utah, Thursday, June, 17, 2010. Mike Terry, Deseret News

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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PROVO — Barry J. Ewell has experienced many “Aha!” moments in his family history research.

As the founder of mygenshare.com, a website for individuals interested in learning, sharing and discovering family history, he knows a thing or two about the trade. In fact, he shared more than 40 tips with audiences at Brigham Young Univeristy’s Campus Education Week from Aug. 14 through 17.

"Every individual leaves a trail, sometimes in the papers you find and often in the groups they associated with," said Ewell. Whether it's a baby book, birth certificate or a photograph, the trails are out there, it just takes some digging to find them.

Ewell’s basic steps before beginning a search are to, first, write down a question, and second, identify broad and narrow search terms and synonyms. He then enters a few precise words into the search engine and looks for secondary search terms in the returns of the first search. While looking through results, Ewell cautioned that if you’re only looking for a name, you’ll miss 70 percent of the clues given, and that for every hour he spends in preparation, he saves himself 20 hours and finds his ancestors three times faster.

Following his first steps with the use of Boolean operators (words like "and," "or" and "not" that are used in a search box to define the relationships between words) on google.com, Ewell’s goal was to show that if you’re taking more than 10 minutes to find what you’re looking for on an Internet browser, you’re taking too long.

Ewell used the following Boolean operators to demonstrate his typical family history searches. Note that the uses of quotations in the query examples are merely to separate the query for understanding and do not serve as an actual function, unless they are contained within the first set of quotations.

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