by Mike Jarvis

As genealogists in today's high-tech world, the importance of using search engines properly is ever increasing. With genealogy related web sites making up a huge part of our World Wide Web, we would like to share some search engine tips that perhaps a few you will find helpful. There is much that could be written about this, but we will focus only on a few tips that we find most helpful. We use [ and ] to indicate terms that would be written in a search box.

First - The use of quotation marks. When using a combination of words in the search box, the search engine results will include every web page where these words occur anywhere on that page regardless of whether these words are immediately next to each other. Using the search term of [family history ] will result in 109,000,000 hits while ["family history"] within quotations will result in 5,400,000 hits. This is because in the second instance it is only finding pages were the words are actually next to or immediately touching each other. Try this with a family name. For example my grandmother is named Flora MacDonald. If I search [Flora McDonald ] in Google it returns 251,000 hits. Putting ["Flora MacDonald"] in quotations results in 29,600 hits. This is far too many hits and primarily relate to a prominent woman in Scottish and American history. This is not my grandmother. However, knowing that my grandmothers middle name was Hermosa, it makes sense to put ["Flora Hermosa MacDonald"] in the search box and I get two hits related specifically to my grandmother. Success!

Second - The use of the minus sign. This is my second favorite search tip. Using any combination of words in a search box with the minus sign directly next to a word that you DO NOT want to find is also helpful. Using the search term ["Flora MacDonald" -Scotland -Scottish -"North Carolina" -NC ] will eliminate any pages from my search that includes the words next to the minus sign. So I will get only those pages that have my grandmother's name and do not have Scotland or North Carolina on the site. This effectively reduces the number of sites by more than half, from 29,600 to 12,800 hits. Using quotation marks and the minus sign in combination greatly improves your search results.

Third - The use of the plus sign. The plus sign has the effect of instructing the search engine to give special emphasis to any word where the plus sign is against it. My grandmother's father was Alexander MacDonald. However, not the Alexander MacDonald who was prime minister of Canada. Using the search term [Flora MacDonald -Scotland -Scottish -"North Carolina" -NC +"Alexander MacDonald" -Canada ] gives me 1 hit that directs me to a site about my grandmother. Here we have combined quotation marks with the minus sign and the plus sign.

Fourth - The site search. Let's say that I would like to find Alexander MacDonald, however, I only want to search a particular domain. I would simply use the search phrase ["Alexander MacDonald" ]. Rather than thousands of hits I get 204. Similarly, you could put a minus sign in front of so that it searches all domains except Rootsweb.

Fifth - The intitle search term. Suppose that you would like to find every site on the Web with the word genealogy in the title. The search box would need the term [intitle:genealogy ], which would result in 943,000 hits. Similarly, use the term [intitle:genealogy ] and you eliminate 3000 sites related to One more: try using the term [intitle:genealogy -site:com ] which will have the effect of eliminating all domains with extension (commercial sites).

Sixth - The related search term: If you like to know which sites are similar to your own then use the term as follows: []. Results will vary with Google providing 31 similar sites and Yahoo serving up 35,000 related sites.

Nearly all of these terms will work in most search engines. If you'd rather not type in the shorthand for many of these tips, the search engines will typically have an advanced search page which will do essentially the same thing. Try: Good hunting!

Source: USGenWeb Project News; Vol. 2; Number 5; September 2005