Google helpful, quick reference guide for genealogists

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 10 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

There are a variety of search techniques that can benefit family history researchers.


Enlarge photo»

If you want a quick reference for conducting a specific type of Internet search, the following list provides the most common searches to use as a genealogist:

Search Google for ancestral villages. Be as specific as possible about location. Be sure to try Google for the country as well — for example, google.ca for Canada and google.sk for Slovakia. See Google Language Tools or Google Translate, which is an application that will let users translate between different languages. Simply type in your text in any language and then hit the "Translate" button. Google Language Tools offers translation services between 149 different languages.

Search Google Books. Looking for a book? Try searching Google Books at books.google.com. This amazing resource contains thousands of entire digitized books that are in the public domain and selected pages of many books that are still under copyright.

Search in lower case. Google doesn't care, but some search engines are case-sensitive: The search terms "ed james" gives results such as the following:


Ed James


eD jAmEs

Don't sweat the punctuation. Google mostly ignores punctuation (commas, semicolons, periods and hyphens). Your search for "tampa, florida" (with the comma) and your search for "tampa florida" (without the coma) produce the same results. One exception: Google includes punctuation when searching for an exact phrase using quotation marks.

View "cached" images of pages no longer available. Have you ever received an "Error 404 — This Page Not Found" message? Click the "Back" button to return to Google's search results list. Then click on the unavailable item's cached link to view Google's archived snapshot of the page. Then copy and paste any useful content to a file on your computer.

Quickly search whole web pages. Stop manually reading through long web pages trying to find where the surnames you are looking for are hiding. Use your Web browser's "Find" function — Crtl+f (Cmd+f for Mac users) — to efficiently search an entire page by jumping from occurrence to occurrence of the term you want to select. PDF documents also have a find feature, generally denoted with the binocular icon.

Search for genealogy surname websites. Google can provide a list of genealogy websites whose titles include your surname by using the "All in Title" phrase: allintitle.genealogy "Isaac Winston" finds sites with the word genealogy in the title (across the website's top band) and in which the name Isaac Winston appears on any page.

Quickly search entire websites. If a promising website lacks a search box on its home page, you don't have to manually search each page for ancestors. Google can look at all the pages of a website in a single search. For example, a search for "Maxcey Ewell site:rootsweb.com" will search RootsWeb.com for any page that references Maxcey Ewell. This kind of search only works for the visible Web.

Search phrases, not just words. Search for a phrase using quotation marks (" "). Quotation marks are used in searches to denote that you are looking for these words in a specific order. For example, if you are searching for "ebenezer jones," you will have results of pages containing the exact quoted phrase "ebenezer jones."

Search synonyms. Search synonyms using the tilde character (~). For example, ~ tombstone gets the same results as searching tombstone, gravestone, headstone, monument or marker.

Other helpful search terms for genealogy research include the following:

~ genealogy

~ index

~ biography

~ surname

Search for missing text strings. Searching for Payson ~ut produces results with any number of missing words, including the following:

    Payson, UT,

    Payson, Utah, UT

    Payson, UT Co., UT,

    Payson, Utah County, UT

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere