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5 tips for using Google for genealogy research


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There was a time not long ago where doing genealogy research meant going to a family history center, library or even civil record sources to find information pertinent to your family history. Thankfully, along came Google and changed the way to research genealogy. Now family history work can be done faster, more accurately and in greater quantity than ever before.

Here are five tips for using Google for your genealogy research.

Create Google Alerts

Google is a robust tool for family history, especially when it comes to lending a hand when you can't be searching yourself — all through Google Alerts.

Google Alerts will take the keywords or phrases you’ve developed and run them through an internet 24/7 until you tell it to stop. When new information is posted online that matches your search, Google will email you links to the content.

To create a customized Google Alert, go to In the search bar near the top of the page, type the query or keyword you want to search. In the box below that, type the email address you wish to have results sent to and click Create Alert.

It is like having a personal assistant doing the work for you around the clock and will make your time spent working on research much more effective when you already have results to sift through.

Use quotations

Family Search explains that using quotation marks in your search query is one of the best ways to get relevant results from a Google search. Quotation marks tell Google to display only an exact keyword or phrase in all results.

For example, if you wanted to search for newspapers in New York, you would put "newspapers" and "New York" in quotes, telling Google that the results must contain those exact keywords or phrases in the results.

Use the minus sign

Sometimes in searching for ancestors, the same people turn up again and again, and they have nothing to do with your family.

Family History Daily explains the power of the minus sign for such situations. Place a minus sign directly before the term you want to exclude in the search results with no space between the minus sign and the term you want to exclude. That could be a city, a name, a date, etc. It will immediately weed out unwanted search results that could be muddying the waters in finding who you are looking for.

Search specific dates

An often underused Google search tactic is the ability to search multiple dates at one time without having to search each one individually, making it especially helpful if you aren't sure of the exact dates of a marriage, birth, death, etc.

Family Search explains that all you need to do is add a date in your search, followed by two periods. For example, 1800..1830. Keep in mind that this will not necessarily exclude other dates from popping up in your search, but will make sure that everything from 1800 to 1830 will be included. If you wish to exclude other specific dates, remember the power of the minus sign.

Search for multiple terms near each other

"One of the most frustrating things about searching for ancestors in Google is that, while the engine will search an entire page for your terms, your terms may not have any association to each other," states Family History Daily. Thankfully, there is a way around this.

To find terms that are literally close to each other in text, enter AROUND and then the number of words you want your other term to be mentioned within in a parentheses, such as, (10).

Family History Daily gives this example: “James Wilcox” AROUND(10) 1837. That means we want Google to look for pages where the exact name James Wilcox appears within 10 words of the date 1837. You can change the modifying number to anything you want (“James Wilcox” AROUND(3) 1837 or “James Wilcox AROUND(1) Mahala) a lower number means a closer association and thus, usually, fewer results. We can also apply this to multiple terms (Example: “Wilcox, James” AROUND(10) Mahala AROUND(5) 1837)."

It may take a little getting used to, but it will greatly improve your search results as they pertain to your research.

Use Google Books and Google Translate

If you find yourself gaining expertise in the field of genealogy research and want to take your searches to the next level, Google Books and Google Translate are excellent next steps.

For example, if you have European ancestors, you may want to start researching in European books for information. However, it can be tricky if you don’t speak their languages. Rather than trying to learn a foreign language or two, just use Google.

Try going to Google Translate and type in what you're looking for, then let Google Translate convert it to the needed language, then copy and paste the result into Google Books, and run your search.

It is a little more time-consuming, but when deep mining is necessary Google Books is a great place to search for the history of a place, the history of a church and through old magazines.

Want to learn more about genealogy research and the tools available? Look no further than RootsTech and its informative conferences.