QUICK LINK TO THE TOOL: AncestorSearch on Google Search
For a change, this post focuses on Google Search rather than the Google Maps tools on this website.
If you’ve tried searching for a mention of your ancestors (or living people) using Google Search, you’ve no doubt run into this little issue from time to time:
175 MILLION results? OK, this might take a while…
Enter AncestorSearch on Google Search, a free search tool that uses Google search enhancements so that you are much more likely to find mentions of the ancestors (or living people) you’re looking for that are otherwise buried in thousands of Google search results. Basically, it uses Google advanced search operators behind the scenes so you don’t have to spend time typing a bunch of awkward symbols.
An example is probably the easiest way to illustrate how AncestorSearch works. Let’s say I am looking for mention of a marriage of a couple of ancestors. I might type something like this into Google Search:
OK, only 2,030 results to start to wade through ;) But as I look through the first page of results, none of them pertain to my ancestors.
So instead, let’s do the same search on AncestorSearch on Google Search:
In the above example, I’ve just typed in the names and locations into the appropriate boxes, then clicked the “Run Full Google Search” button in the lower right corner. Another browser tab opens with the search results:
ONE result! Nice. And when I click the search result, it happens to been an archive page showing a full biography of my ancestors. (You’ll often get more than one result, but it will typically be a very manageable number)
So how does the AncestorSearch tool do this? In short, Google advanced search operators. The AncestorSearch tool doesn’t do anything magical, but it’s a big time saver over typing out all of those quotation marks, reverse name order, pipes and so on. In the above example, this is the search string that the AncestorSearch sends to Google Search:
“adam smith”|”smith, adam” “caroline meinzer”|”meinzer, caroline”|”caroline meincer”|”meincer, caroline” “stephenson ” marriage|married|marriages|wedding|wed|nuptial|nuptials|marry|intention 1860|1861|1862|1863|1864
Now, you can type all of that out manually into Google Search if you really want to…
Give AncestorSearch a try on your ancestors or on living people you’re trying to find record of. For example, Peter Calver, founder of LostCousins, stated in his newsletter “the first time I tried it, it led me to a new ‘lost cousin'”.
Here are some quick time-saving tips when using AncestorSearch:
- Use the Tab key to move between input boxes
- Use the Enter key when you’re ready to perform the Google Search
- Don’t worry about upper case or lower case; Google Search is not case-sensitive
- After you’ve searched, if you have too many or two few results, just close the browser tab that shows the search results, and make changes in AncestorSearch tab and try again
- All of the boxes are optional, fill in as many or as few as you want
And here are a few power user tips:
- If you have too many results, you can narrow the results by checking “Exact” for the year, or checking any of the Marriage, Births or Deaths checkboxes
- If you’re using a county name in the “Place” box, be sure and check that you’re using the correct county name for the year you are searching by using this tool: Historical U.S. Counties on Google Maps (I find it’s best to try searching both with the current county name and then again with the historical county name, as there is a lot of inconsistency in how historical place names get recorded)
- If you know that your ancestor’s name is often misspelled, just add the alternate spelling in the “Alternate Last Name” box.
- The AncestorSearch tool has recently been optimized so you can more easily use it on your smartphone as well!
And finally, here are a few pro-power user tips:
- Another way to narrow your results further is to check the “Only return search results where persons’ names are within 10 words of each other” checkbox at the bottom of the tool (it does what it says on the tin)
- If you are getting inundated with search results from the major people finder websites, check “Exclude search results from the major people finder search tools” to skip searching those sites
- Use the “Other search terms” input box at the bottom of the form to add an additional search term, or to ONLY search one website by typing site:wikipedia.org or to EXCLUDE search results from a particular website by typing -site:wikipedia.org
- Multiple terms can be used in the “Other search terms” input box to add Google advanced search strings to your search, such as this (typed exactly as shown here):
-site:wikipedia.com -“colorado springs” -denver
This example excludes search results from wikipedia.com and excludes search results that contain the phrase “colorado springs” and excludes search results that contain the word denver
- You can “pretend” the last name boxes are first name boxes and vice versa if you want to type alternate spellings of a first name. The tool doesn’t care which is the first and which is the last name.
- After clicking the “Run Full Google Search” button, you can edit the search string on the Google Search page that appears, or just close that tab to go back and refine your search
Did you make any new finds with AncestorSearch? Please share them in the comments section below!