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Are you Googling Your Ancestors?

Are you Googling Your Ancestors?

When we think about researching our ancestors, genealogical-focused websites come to mind. That makes sense. They are the websites that have the records, indexes, and databases we need. But research requires more than entering search terms in a genealogy website's search engine. It requires us to expand our search and try other resources and search techniques.

Whenever I research, I always try a search on Google. Why? Using the Google search engine, it's possible that I can find mention of an ancestor in resources posted by groups or individuals. I can also focus my search to websites, images or books.

Take, for example, my latest search based on some letters I bought at an antique store. I entered the name of a woman who wrote a few letters, Inez Overell, and received several hits. The most promising was one for the website Heirlooms Reunited by genealogist Pam Beveridge. In a blog post dated May 13, 2013, "1880s Autograph Album of Minnie Kennedy with signers from New York, New Orleans, and Ontario," she mentioned several Overell family member appearing in the autograph book, including Inez. Pam, like many genealogists, tries to reunite orphan heirlooms with family. In doing so, she scans and writes about them for her blog. This 10-year-old post provided me with more clues about a family whose letters I bought at an antique store. I was able to connect with Pam and get more information (thanks, Pam!).

Heirlooms Reunited by Pam Beveridge

As I Googled Inez's name, I tried searching for an exact phrase by placing quotation marks around the search phrase (for example, "Inez Overell"). I also tried searching just the surname (Overell), and I focused my search results on books to see if I could find her mentioned in older books (including city directories) or magazines.

This type of search isn't always successful. Not everyone is mentioned in an old book or a website. I have had many times where I come up empty checking Google. But in some cases, you may find information that is not available anywhere else, including the names of researchers or families who are researching that person or have valuable family heirlooms.

As you consider your genealogy Google search, go beyond just entering a name in the Search engine.

Try different search techniques like an exact phrase search, an advanced search (available once you conduct an initial search by clicking on the gear icon in the top left corner), or even a wild card (substitute an asterisk for a missing word like a middle name, for example). If you aren't sure how to use Google to find what you need, check out the webinars about Google in the Legacy Webinars Library.

Advanced Google Search Options from Gear icon

Researching the names I found on these letters has given me a lot of genealogical information about the families involved, but going beyond genealogy websites and generalizing my search to Google has helped to uncover a family heirloom and a researcher I would have ordinarily missed. Take your search to Google and see what you can find.

Let us know your Google search success stories in the comments.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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I refuse to use Google, for reasons most people should know. May I assume that everything in this article would also be valid with DuckDuckGo?

I googled a family surname and the settlement (which no longer exists) where they used to live. I found a blog post about someone else's ancestor who had know the family. There was a transcription of a memoir by this woman about her early life and the year she spent a year living with my ancestors. It included a watercolour and description of the house. Details about farm work. And more. Unfortunately the comments on the blog were locked and I couldn't find a way to contact the blog owner to thank her.
I also found reports of an archaeological survey in the district including around the family homestead.

For me the addition of a location to the name often provides more relevant hits. (It helps that i am generally researching people in villages with smaller populations). One wonderful example was when I came across a snippet about a 3x great grandmother who was apparently known for feeding farmers a slice of spice loaf after they had paid their annual bill to the blacksmith.

Yes absolutely! I think is used here in the sense of searching the internet rather than the specific browser.

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