Recently I asked you, my readers, to send me questions you would like to have answered in our Facebook Live chats. Wendy M. sent me this question which warrants its own post.
How do you adjust your search terms when your ancestors have a name that has a meaning? For example, when I look for Delia Christian, I get all the religious hits – Christian church services, Christian Science Monitor, etc. I have an ancestor named Minnie Coleman Maiden – when I look for her, the newspaper databases give me every Minnie in the world “maiden name whatever.”
The answer to Wendy’s search question has to do with how one performs a search in google or another database. As a researcher, you need to know how to search using google or other search engines and how to narrow your results.
Your Google Search & Three Little Words
Three little words can make a BIG difference in your search.
The AND Search
Now let’s take a look at Wendy’s search for Delia Christian and the AND function. Tip: AND is implied when typing in search terms if no other search operators are added. AND can also be designated with a “+” sign.
A google search for Delia Christian or Delia AND Christian yields over 1 million results with the search terms frequently not even even together. The AND is understood and is often the default in many search engines. Since one of our search terms is a common word such as Christian in this case, many results included references to the christian church, christian fellowship or the christian science religion. That’s a lot to search through!
This is waaaay too many results to help you out.
So let’s narrow this down a bit.
The Quotation Marks
The next step is to put quotation marks (“__ “)around the words you want to appear next to each other in the results. Continuing with the above example, we will perform a search for “Delia Christian” . That brings the results down to ~2100 and includes results where Delia and Christian are next to each other.
You results will be narrowed down to those where Delia Christian appear next to each other, in this case, the name Delia Christian. Still we have way more results than we want. These results show more contemporary results including those in social media.
Let’s keep going….
Add more key words. We are adding the word genealogy to the search: “Delia Christian” AND genealogy. You can keep stacking on search keywords you want included. Only what appears within the quotation marks will appear side by side.
Now we are getting somewhere. These results can be narrowed even more by adding a date or a location to the search field as well.
We can work with 259 results, but 3 is even better. Note: I just added Cayuga County to demonstrate the search. I do not know if this is Wendy’s Delia.
The OR Search
Using OR in your search box will connect 2 or more similar objects. Using OR will also broaden your search results. You are telling the search engine to find results with either of those terms.
Here is an example: North Carolina genealogy OR family history
Results came back with either genealogy Or family history in the listing. At 159 million results, you can see how this type of search really broadens the results. I do not use the OR search very often, but it’s good to know it’s there.
The NOT Search
You are going to like the NOT search! You’ll see how a “negative” is really a positive! A NOT search will exclude a search term from the results. Often you denote NOT with a minus (-) sign.
Let’s look at searching for the Collie family. Just searching for Collie Family yields this:
Uh oh….last I checked there were no dogs in the family tree.
Here is the result of the NOT search: Collie Family -dog
Much better. Now we are looking at real people. The next step would be to add key words into the search to narrow the search even more.
Your Specific Database Search
Individual databases will have their own search forms or fields used to narrow down their results. You can narrow down by date and location, of course. Others will let you narrow down results by using an “exclusion” field.
GenealogyBank allows you to search for a person by first and/or last name, but to also exclude specific terms. A search for Delia Christian yielded 49 results which included many entries regarding church fellowships. Performing the same search but adding “church” as an exclusion term yielded 9 results. Excluding the term “science” yielded 43 results.
A search for “Delia Christian” on FindMyPast returns results with both words together as a name. No exclusions were necessary to weed out references to articles that were only about christian communities or christian fellowship (two common terms found on the basic Google search).
The important take-away is to take a few minutes at the beginning of your search time and learn how the particular database searches. Most sites have a tips section. Use these and save valuable research time.
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