In the last post I touched on the subject of using online resources to trace your family tree. One of the best resources to conduct these kinds of searches is obviously Google. The problem is, Google is so massive that you can easily get lost in the results and you need a way to minimize them so that you don’t waste your time.
So let’s go through some really basic stuff to get started.
1. Simply type in the name of someone you are trying to research. Yes, it’s that simple. You will get a lot of results, but don’t despair. I ran a search for my wife’s 2nd-great-grandfather, Jesse Travis Brannon. Google shows that there are about 734,000 pages with this term. That’s going to take some time to go through. How can I narrow this down?
2. Use quotes. Instead of search for Jesse Travis Brannon I did a search for “Jesse Travis Brannon” and got only 8 results! This is because I used an exact phrase search which means all three names have to appear in this order on the page. So this is a bit too narrow, because there may be a lot of pages that called him Jessie instead of Jesse or they may have dropped his middle name. So what else can I do?
3. I don’t know how many people know this trick but it can be very helpful. Add ~genealogy to your searches and see what happens. Now I “only” have about 295,000 pages to go through. That’s a little better.
4. Add a location. In my case Jesse was born and died in Georgia. So when I add Georgia to my search I get 18,200 results.
5. Add other family members. I know that Jesse married Isabella Elizabeth Atkinson, so if I just add Atkinson to my search I will be able to narrow it down further.
So as you can see there are a lot of way to experiment with Google searches. Of course this is very basic and there is a lot more you can do with Google. Don’t forget that you need to search for name variations (think Brannon, Brannan, Brannom, etc) and don’t forget that not everything is online (yet).
If you plan to use Google like I do to trace my family tree you should pick up Daniel M. Lynch’s terrific book aptly named “Google Your Family Tree.” The book goes through a lot of the different search operators and filters as well as goes into more detail about the other Google products that will become your best friends in your family history journey. Here’s a short video of Daniel talking about his book:
One thing I have to caution about is being organized and careful in your searches. It is so easy to constantly search for the same phrase and go to the same sites if you don’t keep a good research log. And since most of us don’t have all the time in the world, we really want to focus on the good search results and not wander off aimlessly around the internet, right?
In future posts I will discuss using Google Books (your ancestors are in them), Alerts (Google will tell you when it finds something new), Maps (you can sometimes see your ancestral homes), News Archive (because they were in the papers too) and Language Tools.
I am also in the process of trying to figure out how the new Google Instant search will impact genealogy searches. More on that later.