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Tips For Googling Your Family Tree

by Elise Lévêque on July 14th, 2013
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This week I have a guest post from Elise Lévêque on tips for Googling your family tree:

Photo By: GSCSNJ

Photo By: GSCSNJ


When conducting family tree research, obviously the more information you have, the better; that’s why millions of family history search terms are typed into google every single day. In fact, it has never been easier to find all kinds of ancestry data online including birth, marriage and death records, maps, old photographs, news archives, military records and much more.

By starting with what you know about your immediate ancestors, those at the beginning of their search can start using googling their family tree right away. Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of google when it comes to investigating your ancestry online.

Google Search Tips

When googling your family history, there are a few things to remember in order for you to narrow down the results to those most relevant to you. These include:

1. Always put the most important information at the start of your search term as this will help order the results into those that are most relevant.

2. Use quotation marks on proper names and exact match phrases. For example, searching “Louis Matherson” will come up with page results that show that exact combination. If you type in Louis Matherson without quotation marks, then you may get results for Joe Matherson or Louis Simon.

3. Exclude unwanted results using a minus sign. For example, if you know that there are two towns in the country called ‘Gillingham’ then you could type in “Gillingham –Kent” in order to tell google that you meant the other Gillingham in Dorset. However, adding a minus sign can in some instances also minus pages that refer to both Gillingham in Dorset and Gillingham in Kent, so make sure you careful about what you eliminate.

4. Google’s search algorithms do take into account synonyms, but you can search for additional synonyms by typing the tilde symbol (~) before certain words such as ‘~graveyard’ which will display results for ‘cemetery’,’ churchyard’, and ‘memorial’.

5. If you have found a page with a long list of names and you want to find the relevant information quickly, you can type ctrl + alt and ‘f’ and it will bring up a search box in the corner of that page. Simply type in the name you are looking for and the webpage will highlight the matching text within the document instantly.

6. If you want to search a surname, but you’re not sure on the correct spelling then you can use the wildcard symbol (*) which will tell google to accept any consecutive string of characters that appears after the asterisk symbol.

7. If your search takes you to a ‘file not found’ error message, this could mean that the page you are looking for is no longer updated (amongst other reasons). But never fear, you can still search for that information by looking for search results that have the word ‘cached’ at the end of the description and URL.

Finding Free Genealogy Resources Online

Historical documents are being digitized and added to the internet regularly, so it is always wise to do a quick scan of the latest genealogy news websites. That way you can see if anything has been added that might prove useful to your own investigation.

You may also want to seek out genealogy forums and message boards to see if a distant family member has previously conducted family history research that may be of some relevance to you. However, be wary of using other people’s research in your studies because they may have got some of their information wrong. Always double check anything you do decide to include.

Many popular genealogy subscription sites such as allow users a free-trial of their resources, so it may be a good idea to sign up and see what you can find even if you can’t afford the subscription fee.

Offline Sources

Historical records will make up the bulk of your investigation, however, you may also want to include interviews with relatives (some maybe more distant than others) in order to add ‘colour’ to your report. Use social media and people finding services to track these family members down and send them a draft copy. You never know, it might prompt them to start an investigation of their own and you may be able to share your efforts.

So there you have some tips that will help you search effectively online when conducting family tree research. If you have any other relevant tips, please leave a comment below.


Elise Leveque is a freelance translator and blogger from Bristol. She is currently in the throes of putting her own family tree together.




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