Thursday, 19 May 2011

How Well Do You "Google"?

We all know Google as a powerful and super simple search engine. But few of us know about all of the other, more detailed searches that Google can provide. In the last three years, the in depth use of Google for genealogy research has really taken off.
Here are some handy things to know about Google:

  1. Gmail is free and can be accessed from any computer in the world. You can have as many Google Gmail accounts as you want and can even keep a Gmail account specifically for your genealogy research. Usually when you join a genealogy site (Rootsweb, Ancestry, mailing lists, etc) you need to provide an e-mail address. Rather than blocking up your inbox or leaving yourself vulnerable to spam, why not set up a separate Gmail account just for genealogy?
  2. Refine your search. We have all heard about using quotation marks and how that pares down the number of  results we get back. For instance if I Google "John Walker" here's what I get back:

Over 12 million hits. I am overwhelmed already! But if I use quotation marks, here's what I get:

4 million hits. So we have narrowed it down to 30% but still far too many pages to work through. Notice that the first few references are from Wikipedia. I'm really not interested in what Wikipedia has to say about John Walker - I want genealogy references. So, I can exclude all references to Wikipedia by placing a minus sign right before Wikipedia in my search reference. Into the search box I now type: "john walker" -wikipedia. Here's my result:

Still 4 million results, but three out of the top four results are now genealogy related. Now we are getting somewhere. I can refine the search even further by adding in John's wife's name like so:

"john walker" -wikipedia + jane mckinight.
Here's what comes up:

182 thousand results and the first page all relate to my John Walker! Now I have new leads on where to look for John.

           3.   Google Alerts. I can set up an alert for these web pages or for John Walker + Jane McKnight and any new information will get delivered directly to my inbox. Here's how to set up an alert:

Go to Google's home page:

At the top left hand side of the page, you will see the word "more" with a down arrow. Click on the arrow and you will get:

At the bottom of the drop down list, you see the words "even more". Click on this and you will be taken to this page:

The top of the frst column is "Alerts" Click here and you will be directed to set up an alert. In the search terms box, I type in the information I want Google to be on the look out for. From the first drop down box, I choose my category of where I want Google to look. I am going to choose "everything" since I want Google to search websites as well as blogs, mailing lists, message boards, and so on.

Then I can choose how often I want Google to search for me. Since this isn't a hot topic for the web, I don't need Google to let me know "as it happens" and likely not even daily. So, I choose "once a week". I then tell Google where to send the information it finds. In this case, I am having the information sent to my Gmail inbox. Now I just sit back and wait and let Goolge do the work. In the meantime, I am going to have a look at the websites on that first page of genealogy on John Walker and Jane McKnight.

There are so many other useful things about Google when it comes to genealogy research, but I will let you play with these for a while. Stay tuned for future posts on the uses of Google in genealogy research!
Happy web hunting!

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