But Google is an often lightly used platform for doing family history research, or as I like to call it - ancestor hunting. I don't know why that is - but it is likely that hunters are not using some more advanced search techniques. These techniques are not complicated, but a good understanding of them will make using Google and the resultant search results much more palatable and useful in the search for ancestors.
This article focuses on some of these search techniques and also offers some hints into some of Google's lesser known databases, three of which, Books, Scholar, and Patents have been tremendously helpful to me in filling out the stories of my ancestor's lives.
Useful Search Techniques
But you can easily accomplish the same results using the standard Google search box. The following are some standard advanced techniques:
Exact Phrase Search
If you are searching for the exact spelling of a certain ancestor "target" - this is useful. For example if the person's name is Frederick A Martin and you wish to exclude all the Frederick Martin's without a middle initial or with a different middle initial than "A", then enclose the name in quotes - "Frederick A Martin". Please be aware that this will likely exclude a great number of results but could allow you to hone in on your specific target.
If you often search a certain surname and if it is a unique one, then you might have one ancestor that "monopolizes" the results. For example, one of my ancestor surnames is Braunhart. Specifically the most famous Braunhart was Samuel, a prominent politician in San Francisco in the late 19th century. When I search for the name Braunhart, well over 60% of the results are for him. If I am not searching for him, or other Braunharts, I could exclude his results by entering Braunhart -Samuel. Make sure to have a space after the first word and place the minus sign directly in front of the surname in this case.
Another example might be a person with a more common name. Let's say your target (for example Frederick Martin) lived in Kansas, but a person with the same name lived in Minnesota. If you wanted to exclude many of the results for the Minnesota Frederick Martin, you could enter Frederick Martin -Minnesota and that would likely exclude many of the results for the Minnesota Frederick Martin.
You can also string multiple exclusions - for example Frederick Martin -Minnesota - teacher if without the exclusions you happened to get a number of results for a teacher who was not your target. This is actually quite an easy and useful search technique. Play with it and you will be happy with the results.
The OR operator
By definition Google searches assume a Boolean "AND" operation. This means that If you enter Frederick Martin the assumption is that you are searching for web pages that have the word Frederick and the word Martin in them. This is the default Google search.
But what if you had an uncommon surname and the spelling differs, or you suspect the spelling differs, for example Martinstine or Martinstein. In your search parameters you would enter Martinstine OR Martinstein. In this case, Google would return all search results with either of those surnames in a webpage. I know in my ancestry, many of my ancestors had different spellings of their surname, for example Heyman or Heymann;or Braunhart or Braunhardt. In these cases I would use the "OR" operator to find webpages with wither of the different spellings.
If you know (or suspect) that your target is represented in a specific page or domain, you can use a site search. For example, my ancestor Samuel Braunhart spent a lot of his life in San Francisco. A quite useful site for San Francisco family history search is San Francisco Genealogy. Although this particular site does have a built in search engine, let's pretend that it does not. As you well know, many websites do not. To find the aforementioned Mr. Braunhart at that site, in the search box we would enter site:www.sfgenealogy.com Braunhart and it would return all the pages within their site that has his name in it. So it is quite easy - just enter "site:" followed by the url, a space and then the search term. Try my example and you will see how it works.
If you are like at least half of the people in the world, and especially in America, your ancestors were immigrants, which means that they came from another country. Likely you will be faced with search results in a different language. If you speak the language, you might want to exclude the English results for example, or you might want to exclude the non-English language results. In any case, you have the option to narrow results for any specific language by using the Language option in Advanced search. Again, the way to perform an Advanced search is as follows: enter the url www.google.com/advanced_search. Or after you complete a search, on the results page a gear symbol will appear in the upper right. Click on that and one of the drop down options will be "Advanced Search."
Then you can narrow the results by selecting the appropriate language in the Language drop down.
Google Databases Great for Family History Searching
Google has scanned over 20 million books and applied Optical Character Recognition techniques to make them searchable. Because of copyright issues and the like, not all of the books that have been scanned are displayable after finding a book with one of your searches of this database. It is quite simple to search the Google Books database. Enterwww.books.google.com and the interface will be presented to you. Enter the word(s) you wish to search and voila - all the books that contain your search parameters will be revealed to you.
There are three types of display of your search results after you select one. Full View allows you to see all the pages of the book. Preview allows you to see selected full pages of the book. And Snippet only allows you to see 2 or 3 lines on the page that your search phrase resides. So depending on your need to see specific pages, you may have to seek a library that houses the entire book. Again in my case there were some of each of the views that applied to searches for my ancestors and their appearance in the books in the Google database.
Please note that the advanced search techniques written in this article also apply to your search of the Google books database.
Google Scholar focuses on journals and other scholarly works. Again - all the advanced search techniques mentioned previously can be used. The results, as in using the Books database, may limit what can be displayed. In some cases you might be able to view entire pages of what you are seeking; in others, you may be sent to external databases where the previews are either limited, or you must pay a fee to download the document. The scholar database can be accessed by entering the url www.scholar.google.com
Over 8 million U.S. patents are included in this database, and as of August, 2012, some European patents have been added. This database has been quite useful to me, as 4 of my ancestors have registered patents in this database. These make for interesting stories to add color to your family history research. Again, the same advanced search techniques can be used to search the Patent database. The patents database can be accessed by entering the url www.patents.google.com