Why I Like Google… And 9 Ways to Search Smarter

by | Aug 29, 2016 | 9 comments

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!  😀 

Are You a Naughty Genealogist? Me too, sometimes!

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.

I found this photo of Andrew Faivre by doing a random Google search

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.

I found this book with my ancestor in it while doing a random Google search

  • 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. 😉

My Descendant's Ancestors is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


  1. Cathy Meder-Dempsey

    Amusing read Elizabeth! I love that Google will tell me, “You’ve visited this page many times.” It keeps me focused when I go off on my “late at night, when nobody is looking” searches.

    • Elizabeth O'Neal

      Thank you, Cathy! Gosh, Google isn’t quite that kind to me… he lets me go back to the same stuff without warning all the time. And I’m signed in with the Chrome browser, so you’d think he would play nice!

  2. akellmurr72

    I love this post. You have a great sense of humor. Great tips here. I am reckless like you and find myself googling with no plan quite often. Here’s to living dangerously!

    • Elizabeth O'Neal

      Thank you, Andrea! Having a sense of humor is basically what keeps me sane. Let’s face it: random Googling is kind of fun, so let’s not stop doing it! 😀

  3. fhtess65

    Great post! Your tips are fantastic 🙂 I too Google randomly…it’s how I found out my great-uncle was famous for having published erotica in late 19th and early 20th century Paris! Even cooler, he also published some of Oscar Wilde’s work!

    • Elizabeth O'Neal

      Aww, thank you, fhtess65! What an awesome find about your great-uncle! That story might work for the October Genealogy Blog Party, so stay tuned! 😉

  4. Linda Lauterbach

    I have been using google for a long time, too. My biggest find was a google books snippet from an old Colorado law book from the 1860’s that indicated my great-grandfather was adopted. I was able to find the law book at the Northwestern Law Library to see the complete resolution. I learned that he was adopted, who he was adopted by, his name change and his birth name.

    • Elizabeth O'Neal

      WOW, what an awesome find, Linda! Did you already know that he was adopted, or was that something new to you?

      • Linda Lauterbach

        A totally new find. Samuel N. Hoyt adopted him in Colorado in 1867 and changed his name to Frank Crampton Hoyt. His birth name was Thomas McIntosh and I have not been able to locate his parents. FC Hoyt became a prominent psychiatrist and I have found many of his journal articles on google books.


What do you think? Share your thoughts!

Elizabeth O'Neal

Elizabeth O'Neal

Genealogist, Writer, Web Developer, Educator

Elizabeth O'Neal is passionate about helping others discover, preserve and share their family stories. She hopes her only descendant will someday develop an interest in her ancestry.


Hello, I'm Elizabeth! I'm a genealogist, writer, and educator, and I've been looking for my descendant's ancestors for 3x's longer than she's been alive. I tell some of their stories here, but I also share tech and blogging tips, news, and other stuff I like. I am the host of the Genealogy Blog Party, which I hope you will join! Find out more right here.

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