I am a very naughty genealogist.
In fact, if there was such a thing as genealogy school, my report cards would say, “Does not follow directions.” “Colors outside the lines.” “Runs with scissors.”
Yep, I’m that genealogist that your parents told you about.
The reason? I like to Google.
Just randomly. With no plan at all. I just type stuff into the search box to see what will come up.
I’m a search engine renegade.
Oh, I know: a genealogist should always have a plan. And I do have a plan.
But sometimes, late at night, when nobody is looking, I toss out the plan, and I Google.
You should try it. It’s really very liberating! 😀
And you know what else? I’ve made some terrific discoveries with my crazy, random Googling!
Sure, there are times when I get nothing. Or just a whole bunch of the same.
The worst is when I get links to my own blog like I’m the only person in the entire world searching for that particular ancestor/place/search term.
But then other times… BAM! A county history book mentioning an ancestor will pop up!
BOOM! An obituary naming a whole family will pop up!
BANG! I’ll find another blogger writing about my ancestors! Wait… that has never happened. 😭
But you get my drift, right?
I Google because I find stuff. And vice versa.
My most amazing discovery to date happened late one night when I decided to search for my great-great-grandmother, Louise Faivire. The first item that popped up under Books was a link to a textbook about 19th-century drunks and the women who loved them. Just what you want to find about your family, right? 😯
After my initial shock wore off, I found the book on Amazon.com, and after thumbing through a few pages of the LOOK INSIDE! preview, I found myself staring at a photo of my great-great-grandfather, Andrew Faivre. I had never seen a picture of him before, and yet, here he was in a book. On the Internet. Without fingers.
This lead to further research, of course. I eventually learned that Louise was the litigant in a case that would not only make headlines across the country, but would also help fuel the temperance movement, and possibly contribute to the passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. I wrote about some of that story here.
I would never have known any of this if I hadn’t sat down one night and typed “Louse Faivre” into a Google search box.
9 Ways to Search Smarter
If you don’t like to live on the Googling edge like I do, here are a few tips to help make your searching experience a little more productive:
- Use quote marks “” to search for a specific phrase.
Try looking for “Bartemus Crouch” or “Barty Q Crouch” instead of just Barty Crouch. This will bring up the exact name or phrase you need and is especially helpful when searching for common names.
Note: Google has replaced the + sign with quote marks, so using quotes around a term has the same effect. For example, +Barty +Crouch would now be “Barty” “Crouch” or “Barty Crouch” if you want the exact phrase.
- Use a minus sign – to eliminate stuff you don’t want.
Looking for Harold Potter, not Harry? Try searching for “Harold Potter” -Harry to prevent unwanted results.
- Use Boolean expressions to narrow results and search multiple terms.
Use AND, as in “Ron Weasley” AND “Lincoln Nebraska” so you won’t wind up with that other Ron Weasley cluttering up your results. Use the OR operator, as in Hogwarts OR Durmstrang, for results containing one or both of the search terms.
- Use a wild card * search when you don’t know all the words.
Can’t remember a word or words in a phrase? Try using the asterisk * symbol for a wild card search. Example: “never trust * think” (see the actual quote).
- Use DEFINE: to find out what a word means.
Google will pull up a dictionary definition for most words, and will also search for the meaning of slang words and acronyms. DEFINE: expelliarmus.
- Filter your results with tabs.
Those words under the search bar? They filter your results. Try clicking “Images,” “News,” “Maps,” or my personal favorite, “Books.” You can even specify a date range by clicking “Search tools.”
- Not “Feeling Lucky?”
If you’re not getting the results you want, try an Advanced Search, located under the gear icon at the top right of the screen.
- The Google News Archive still exists.
Remember the Google News Archive? It’s still out there, but you have to look for it. Try searching this free newspaper archive here.
- Alert yourself.
If you find yourself searching for the same term(s) over and over again, consider setting up an alert, and let Google do the work for you. When new content is published about your search term – for example, when a blogger writes about a specific ancestor of interest – you will receive an alert by email letting you know.
And a Few More
- Remember, new content comes online all the time. If you don’t find anything the first time you search, try, try again another time.
- The reverse is also true: content is removed from the web all the time. If you do find something useful, be sure to save a copy to your hard drive, Evernote, Dropbox, or other storage medium so you will have it if/when the original goes bye-bye.
- If something you had previously found has gone away, try searching the Wayback Machine. Yesterday, I managed to find an old website I built on Geocities back in 1998 (ugh), so even stuff you might wish was gone forever could be archived by the Wayback Machine.
CAUTION: Random Googling may lead to reckless behaviors such as wandering through the stacks of libraries and archives “just in case” you’ve missed something or venturing into closed rooms and attics of courthouses without permission because “that’s where the good stuff is.” Google at your own risk. 😉
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Also published on Medium.