Google helpful, quick reference guide for genealogists

By Barry Ewell

For the Deseret News

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

Target timeframes. Set a date range for your searches to exclude recent events. Example: 1750.1899 produces a list of websites that include years (numbers, actually) between 1750 and 1899, inclusive, but omits sites mentioning only the 1900s.

Search for names — both forward and backward. Search names as phrases; search them "forward" (given name first) and "backward" (surname first) to also find reverse name listings. Example: Search "mary sims" and also "sims, mary" to find additional relevant results.

Force Google to include "ignored" words within results. For speed, Google automatically ignores many common words like "a," "the," "he," "she," "how," "when," " where" and "if." Ordinarily this is OK, but "I" and "will" can be meaningful to genealogists. The solution: enclose "I" in quotes: "arthur darrah I" or precede will with a plus sign (+): "dunning +will."

Search for all likely aliases. Don't stop with a search for "ora w. jones" He may have been indexed as

Ora Jones

O. Jones

O. W. Goode

Ora William Jones

Ora W. Jones

For common surnames, add geographic or time restrictions.

For example, search using this single long search string of all the variations at once: "ira smith " OR "ira a. smith " OR "i. a. smith " OR "i.aaron smith" OR "aaron smith" chicago 1874..1938

Use minus sign to exclude unwanted results (same as "NOT"). Exclude irrelevant results that crowd out desired results by using the minus sign (-). For example, adding -ulysses to a search for grant removes most of the original results. Be careful, though: -texas will exclude all sites with the word Texas, including sites that elsewhere contain your ancestors.

Try the marriage "combo plate." Search husband and wife surnames together to increase relevant results. For example, search "ora jones" AND Dearing. Understand that "ora jones" alone retreives thousands of hits, but by adding Dearing, you eliminate 99.7 percent of the initial results; the remaining 0.3 percent of results emphasize the Jones marriage and family that you are specifically searching for.

Use genealogical key words in your searches. Add genealogical terms to your surname search string and search repeatedly with different emphases. The following is a list of suggested key terms to include in your searches:


. Birth








List index





Surname . Will


The order of search terms is important. Search engines apply priority to early words in your search string. Example: "smith tombstone rock New Jersey" produces somewhat different results than "rock tombstone New Jersey smith."

Don't forget the invisible Internet. Search engines can see only the "visible Internet." Most websites that require you to use their own search box (ancestry.com, familysearch.org and rootsweb.com, for example) are considered the "invisible Internet" and must be searched individually.

Repeat your searches using variations of your search terms. This is important: Searching the Web is hard work; missing ancestors are often inaccessible, buried on page 200 of your search results. So continuously revise and refine your search terms and re-search with the aim of fewer than 200 hits with highly relevant sites in the top 10 to 20 results.

Repeat your searches using different search engines. No search engine has a complete index of the Internet. It pays to use more than one search engine. In addition to Google, consider trying altavista.com, alltheweb.com, ask.com and vivisimo.com.

Try searching with a meta-search engine. These are like search engines on steroids — they automate the simultaneous search of multiple search engines. The advantage of using a meta-search engine is breadth of results, but the downside is their inability to manage complex searches, because different search engines use different syntax and punctuation rules. Try yippy.com or dogpile.com.

Find links to a relevant site. Often, a productive site will have other valuable sites linked to it. Use Google to find a list of sites that link to a good site. Example: danishgenealogy.com.

Target ancestors hiding in (.GED) files. Most genealogy programs for computers export files as GEDCOMs (.ged file format), so ask Google to look for ancestors inside highly relevant .ged files. For example: "Maxcey ewell" filetype:ged.

Barry J. Ewell is author of "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips and Tricks for Discovering Your Family History" and founder of mygenshare.com, an online educational website for genealogy and family history.

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