Technical Stuff

Advanced Google Tips

Google is one of the most important power tools in your genealogy toolbox and almost become “second nature” when we want to find anything from a great recipe to where can I buy something. 

Google search results have also become the go-to search engine for most genealogists.  Google is much more than just a tool for finding Web sites and most people merely scratch the surface of its full potential. Given the right commands, Google can return searches from within Web sites, unearth photos of your ancestors, bring back dead websites, and track down those hard to find relatives.

Start with some basic searches

·         Get it all – With Google is assumes that you are asking for results that include all of the words in your search term.  So, it is implied there is an “and” between each term. So whatever you ask Google in a search, it will try to reply only with pages that include all of your search terms.

·         Case insensitive – Just to keep it simple, type your searches in lower case.  With the exception of the search operators AND and OR, your request will be returned with the same results regardless of the case.  Example: John Doe Chicago, Illinois will return the same results as john doe chicago illinois. Google also ignores common punctuation such as commas and periods. 

·         Order of terms matters - Google gives higher priority to terms placed earlier in your search. Example: These two searches will return different results.  Thus, a search for randolph county illinois cemeteries records will return pages in a different ranked order than Cemeteries records randolph county illinois. Make sure you have your most important term first and group your search terms in a way that makes sense.

Structure searches with a focus

·         Using quotation marks - Use quotation marks if a group of words is important for your search.  Example: "randolph county illinois" cemeteries records cuts the number of results from over 2 million results down to 109 thousand more targeted results. This is especially useful when searching for proper names.  For example, the search for john doe will bring up pages with john smith and bill doe, while searching for "john doe" will only return pages with john doe included as a phrase.

·         Remove unwanted results – The use of a minus sign (-) before words that you do not want results will eliminate them from your results.  This is especially useful when searching for a surname with a common usage such as "jones" or one which is shared with a famous celebrity such as Tom Jones Search for jones -tom to exclude results with the word 'tom'. It is really helpful when your search includes popular city names such as jones paris Illinois or il -texas -idaho -france.

·         Looking for either OR – With the use of OR you can get between search terms to retrieve search results that match any one of a number of words. Google’s default is to return ALL results matching your request.  With the term OR (ALL CAPS) you increase your flexibility Example: jones cemetery OR gravestone will return results for jones cemetery and jones gravestone.

·         Tell me what you want, what you really really want – There are powerful algorithms running in the background to ensure accurate search results, including automatically considering searches for words that are common synonyms and offering alternate spellings. Stemming returns not only results with your keyword but also with terms based on the keyword stem — such as "powers," "power" and "powered." Google can be a little too helpful at times returning results for you may not want. In these cases, use "quotation marks" around your search term to ensure that it is used exactly as you typed it.  Example: "jones" surname genealogy.

·         Request additional synonyms - Although Google search automatically displays results for certain synonyms, the tilde symbol (~) will force Google to show additional synonyms (and related words) for your query. For example, a search for hugh easdale ~vital records leads Google to return results including "vital records," "birth records," "marriage records," and more. Similarly, ~obituaries will also include "obits," "death notices," "newspaper obituaries," "funeral," etc. Even a search for hugh easdale ~genealogy will yield different search results than hugh easdale genealogy. Search terms (including synonyms) are bolded in Google search results, so you can easily see what terms were found on each page.

·         Wildcards - Including an *, or wildcard, in your search query tells Google to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term(s) and then find the best matches. Use the wildcard (*) operator to end a question or phrase such as ​hugh easdale was born in * or as a proximity search to find terms located within two words of each other such as samuel * martindale (good for middle names and initials). Note that the * operator works only on whole words, not parts of words. You can't, for example, search for owen* in Google to return results for Owen and Owens.

·         Use Google's Advanced Search Form - If the search options above are more than you want to know, try using Google's Advanced Search Form which simplifies most of the search options previously mentioned, such as using search phrases, as well as removing words you don't want to be included in your search results.

But what if I don't want to back up to the cloud?

In our September meeting, we had a great explanation from Thomas MacEntee of what cloud storage is and how to use it.  Many people are still a bit afraid of storing their research and photos in the cloud.  What are your options?

No External Storage

If you just have your information on your laptop of a desktop computer, there is a very good chance you will have a catastrophic failure and lose your data.  Mechanical storage devices fail.  Hard drives by design are mechanical devices with spinning disks, a drive motor, and moving arms.  Mechanical devices all have a high possibility of failing.  

How long will a hard drive last?  There is a lot of hype about hard drives and how long will they last before they fail.  I can tell you in my own experience, I have purchased new drives, which failed right out of the box.  I have also had some of my hard drives spinning 24/7 for the last 7 years without a hiccup.  So should you worry?  YES.

If you do not have any external back up of your computer data, you are taking a big risk.

Storage Options –

DVD - Many older computers have a DVD/CD writer.  DVD has a low failure rate and can be a very affordable storage device.


Thumb Drives – if you have a USB port on your computer, a thumb drive can be a great option to back up your data.


External Hard Drive - This is another way to store large amounts of data and have the peace of mind that you have your data in more than just one failure point.

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If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave a comment here and we can start a community discussion.