It’s likely that we’ve all turned to Google at some point in our genealogical research. After all, simply typing in our search topic, hitting “Enter,” and hoping for the best is one of easiest ways to be led to heaps of helpful (and sometimes not-so-helpful) sources. But there’s a better way to use Google for family history research says Lisa Louise Cooke, host of The Genealogy Gems Podcast.
“I’ve discovered that there actually is a methodology to using Google for genealogy,” said Cooke in her presentation at RootsTech 2016. “There really is a science to it.”
While there are many ways you can use Google to aid your research, here are three of the most beneficial:
1. Formulate Specific Queries
The first and most important step to using Google successfully is identifying what you want to find. That may sound simple, says Cooke, but many people will simply pull up Google and search “Johnson.” Instantly, the searcher will be overwhelmed with results that likely aren’t relevant due to the commonality of the name “Johnson.”
“We’ve been a little too global in what we’re requesting,” says Cooke. “So don’t throw your genealogy brain out the window just because it’s going to Google.com. Structure a question about what you want in really specific terms. Are you looking for a particular record collection? Are you looking for a particular ancestor in a family? Are you just trying to figure out how to upload your family tree?”
Cooke says it’s a good idea to formulate your question to Google just as you would to a reference librarian.
“How would I describe it to a reference librarian? Ask yourself that. That will help you in doing this.”
2. Use Quotation Marks and Minus Signs to Narrow Search Results
One of the best ways to get relevant results from a Google search is to use quotation marks in your search query. Quotation marks tell Google to display only an exact keyword or phrase in all results.
“If I’m doing newspaper research in the San Francisco area, I put ‘newspapers’ in quotes and also ‘San Francisco.’ I’m telling Google something very specific about—it’s got to have ‘newspapers,’ and it’s got to have ‘San Francisco,’” said Cooke.
To further refine search results, you can also use the minus sign (-) to get rid of keywords that you know have nothing to do with your family.
3. Set Up Google Alerts
After you’ve flushed out the perfect search query for your ancestors, turn to Google Alerts. Google Alerts will take the keywords or phrase you’ve developed and will run it across the internet every hour of every day until you tell it to stop.
“Setting up Google Alerts is like getting your own genealogy personal assistant, somebody who’s going to do this for you in the background,” says Cooke.
To create a customized Google Alert, go to www.google.com/alerts. In the search bar near the top of the page, insert your query or the 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.”
Your customized Google Alert will then send you links to web pages that match your query.
After you set up the alert, Google will email you updates on new and updated web pages. Cooke also said, “You can have up to a thousand [alerts]. You’re going to sign in, make one query after another, and in your sleep, Google will be searching and finding ancestors. And you will wake up, and it’s just like Christmas every day. I love it.”