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
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:
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.
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