Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Google Tips for Genealogy: The Basics

The first time you went to the library you had to learn how to use the card catalog. The first time you went to the archives or a Family History Center you had to learn how to use a microfilm reader. So, you should take time to learn how to use another important research tool: Google.
  1. Take time to read the Help files at
  2. Start by reading the Basics, even if you think you've already had enough experience using Google. It is never too late to learn something new.
  3. Read the Advanced search help files to learn a new trick or two.
  4. Keep a research workbook open on your computer (a word processing file for your research notes) while you are visiting web sites.
  5. Copy and paste directly from the web browser window to your notes the search terms you use, the sets of results you get back, ideas you have for future searches, etc. Keep a running log of what you are doing so that when you step away from the computer you can later pick up again where you left off.

Basic Search:

  • Google is not case-sensitive for keywords, so uppercase or lowercase letters will each return the same results. Boolean operators are case-sensitive (AND, OR, NOT).
  • Google automatically uses "and" in the query, returning hits that include all of your keywords.
  • Google allows up to 10 words to be used in a search. Use your 10 words wisely.
  • Use distinct keywords unique to your query: a place name, a unique given name or surname, a year, etc.
  • Don't use common words or phrases such as: the, of, is, but (these waste your 10 words)
    For example, instead of The Genealogy of the Johnson Family in Iowa enter a simpler, more specific query with unique keywords such as:
    genealogy peter johnson iowa sweden

A Slightly More Advanced Search:

  • Place quotes around a set of words to keep them together as an exact phrase. In the example above I would use them if I want to be sure to get returns that include exactly the name "peter johnson"
  • Use + in front of a search term to insure it is included (although Google does default to assume this)
  • Use - in front of a search term to exclude a keyword or a phrase. In my example I could exclude possible hits returned that might include Norway:
    genealogy peter johnson iowa sweden -norway
  • Use OR in a phrase to include results, but not necessarily all of the words in your query. In my example I could use OR to look for variant spellings on the surname:
    genealogy "peter johnson" OR "peter johnsen" iowa sweden

I will post more Google Tips for Genealogy in the days to come . . . in the meantime visit my Googling for Grandma page for links.


No comments: