Make sure you are getting the most out of your genealogy searches. Learn basic search principles and how to filter results for your ancestor.
Genealogy Research,  How To Trace Your Family Tree

How To Perform Your Genealogy Searches More Successfully

Get the most out of your genealogy searches by understanding basic search engine principles and start finding your ancestors.

Recently I asked you, my readers, to send me questions you would like to have answered in our weekly 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.

Make sure you are getting the most out of your genealogy searches. Learn basic search principles and how to filter results for your ancestor.
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Genealogy Searches on Google – Know These Three Little Words

Three little words can make a BIG difference in your search for ancestors or really, any online search you perform online.

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT

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 or side by side.  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 of irrelevant search results to sort through and not much help to us as genealogy researchers.

So, let’s narrow these search results 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.

Sample of genealogy searches results

The results will be narrowed down to those where Delia  and Christian appear next to each other, in this case, the name Delia Christian. We still got many references to the Christian religion which is not part of our research question.

Basically, we still have more results than we want to try to sort. 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.

Genealogy searches on google

Now we are getting somewhere. 259 results is much more manageable.  But….we can go even further.

 The results can be narrowed even more by adding a date or a location to the search field as well.

Google search results

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.

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

google search results

Results came back with either the term genealogy Or family history in the listing. At 159 million results, you can see how this type of search broadens the search results. Often the number of results is too cumbersome. I do not use the OR search very often, but it’s good to know it’s there.

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:

genealogy searches that are too broad

Uh oh….last I checked there were no dogs in the family tree. 

I needed a way to search for the Collie family without having to sort through multiple entries on collie dogs. The NOT search was perfect for this.

Here is the result of the NOT search: Collie Family -dog

collie google search

Much better. Now we are looking at real people.  The next step would be to add key words into the search such as place and/or date to narrow the search results even more.

Genealogy Searches On Databases Other Than Google

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 tips specific to the database you are using, and you will save valuable research time.

Genealogy researcher

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