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Refine Online Genealogy Results with Effective Search Techniques

There are millions of websites, too many to count for sure. By navigating the internet with different terms and different browsers you might discover a new source.

The first thing to help you build better queries is to understand how web crawlers work. Yahoo, Google, Bing, Etc. index web pages through Meta Tags and keywords. When you create your query, if the web page is indexed by the internet provider, and it contains the information you are looking for in Meta Tag and keywords, your statement will return relevant websites. Not all websites pages are indexed, so you will not get the same results from all browsers and all websites.

Create Refined Query Statements

Before creating your statement you should understand how to create effective online genealogy searches. Web crawlers DON'T stop for every word when searching texts and titles online. In fact, in order to cut down on response time, these browsers routinely ignore small and common words, such as parts of speech (adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, or forms of "to be"). Examples include: a, about, an, and, are, as, at, be, by, from, how, I, in, is, it, of, on, or, that, the, this, to, we, what, when, where, which, with, etc. Not all online web portals work the same. In addition, their lists change frequently. If you initiate a look-up at a site that maintains a certain list and you type any of them into your statement (even in phrases surrounded by quotes), they might be ignored. An exception to this is Google, which has a stop word list but recognizes them within phrases surrounded by quotation marks. Refine your genealogy phrases so you eliminate stop words from your queries.

You can create your own queries on all web crawlers. Not all browsers work the same, so get familiar with your portals way of constructing queries to help you get better results. Google has an advanced Tool that can help you create queries.

When browsing the internet for online information, to avoid getting too many results try adding at least two more specific terms to your string. If your query returns too few documents, maybe you didn't configure your term correctly so try omitting some of your terms. Try your query on a metasearcher, like metacrawler.com, which looks through Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask directory; or Search.com. If you are looking for an international portal, click here

Combine Keywords to Create Effective Searches

Starting with Keywords, put the most important terms first. Combine into phrases by putting them between Quote Marks. To ensure your keywords will be searched, put a +sign in front of them.

Use the plus (+) and minus (-) signs in front of terms to force their inclusion and/or exclusion in searches. (NO spaces).
Example: +George -Washington

Use double quotation marks (" ") around phrases to ensure they are searched exactly as is, with the words side by side in the same order. (Do NOT put quotation marks around a single word).
Example: "John Smith"
Example: "Smith, John "

Type keywords and phrases in lower case to find both lower and upper case versions. Typing capital letters will usually return only an exact match.
Example: president retrieves both president and President

Boolean and Special Operators can return New Websites

Combining phrases with AND as well as OR, helps with refining family search queries. (Most web crawlers require then to be capitalized or they will be ignored). NOT is also acceptable, but it is easier to use a minus sign.
Example: George AND Washington could return George Burns and Grover Washington
Example: Bell genealogy AND Ireland

In Boolean searches, always enclose OR statements in parentheses.
Example: Birth (announcement OR certificate)
online-genealogy-search

Use Special Symbols to Filter Results

Other special operators include tilde, asterisk, and ranges.

Use the tilde sign before a word to find related terms that are nearly the same meaning.
Example: ~genealogy will return genealogy, geneology, genealogical, ancestry, or family tree

Use an asterisk as a wild card to find online variations in spelling and word form.
Example: "John * Smith", will return people with the name of John Smith and John Smith with a middle name or middle initial followed by Smith.
Example: librar* returns library, libraries, librarian, etc.

Use a range to filter results for a number of years
Example: 1700...1750 returns results from 1700 through 1750

Phrases Help with Advanced Online Genealogy Searches

The combination of two or more words arranged in a logical progression is considered a phrase. Put your most important words in the front of your query. Phrases may contain Boolean operators, as well as advanced operators.

This will search for two people:
Example: "John Martin" "Mary Roads"

This will look for someone online within a range of years
Example: "Sue Rouse" 1760...1845 (note there are no spaces between the years and the three periods).

This query will look for someone between a range of years in a certain place
Example: "Barbara Smart" 1760...1845 +Indiana OR IN

This will hunt for someone online between a range of years in a certain place within a certain document
Example: "Brian Smith" 1760...1845 +(Indiana OR IN) +(WPA OR Works Progress Administration)

This will search for a certain type of document or term:
Example: Pennsylvania "Archives"
Example: Berks+county+Pennsylvania "Online Census"
Example: Alabama "Tax Records" +1700...1750
Example: "PA Genealogy" AND records (tax OR census) +1880...1900

This will try to find first name last name, or first name middle name last name, or last name first name. It uses genealogy and ancestry, along with similar terms, including the common misspelling of genealogy, which is geneology. It will also look for Pennsylvania or PA (but does not have to contain Pennsylvania or PA:
Example: "John Smith" OR "John * Smith" OR "Smith, John" ~genealogy OR ~ancestry Pennsylvania OR PA

See How Filtering Produces Better Results

Query Results
Treat 146,000,000
Treat ~genealogy 75,300,000
Treat ~genealogy AND Hendricks 4,330,000
Treat ~genealogy AND Hendricks OR Shelby 704,000
Treat ~genealogy Hendricks Indiana 780,000
"Henry Treat" ~genealogy Hendricks Indiana 194

Keep Track of your Results

Hopefully you have learned something new about genealogy online and different ways to navigate the internet. Keep Track of which browsers and which search terms you have used, along with the results that were obtained. This will help you to stay focused and not waste time doing the same thing over and over. Hopefully you will be lucky enough to find what you are looking for on the internet using these search techniques.