Live show air date: June 25, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
The first 4 minutes of the video is the “Waiting Room.” This welcomes viewers and counts down to the start of the live show.
Today’s Topic: How to get better Google search results faster.
Our Goal: Up to 90% reduction in the number of search results, and higher quality results on the first few pages.
In this session we discussed:
Identifying what you already have, (the “searchables”) and
using Google Tools to flesh out the details
so that we can tell a richer, more complete story.
Start broad and then analyze your results to determine if you need to narrow your search by adding more details and search operators.
Reviewing your initial search results will possibly reveal alternative spellings you may want to explore.
The search operator we used in this episode was quotation marks.
Example: “Washington McClellan”
Quotation marks can be used on single words or phrases. They tell Google that:
all search results must include in word or phrase,
the words must be spelled exactly as you spelled them,
the words in phrases must appear in the order your typed them.
You can have multiple words and phrases in your query.
Example: “mcalister” “harness” shop “logan utah”
If you discover an address during your searching, you can plot it in Google Earth. Search for it in the search box. Click the placemark button in the toolbar (the yellow pushpin icon) to mark the location.
(Learn more about using Google Earth in episode 12 of Elevenses with Lisa available here.)
Time Saving Tips:
When reviewing large webpages, quickly find your keywords (“searchables”) by doing a Find on Page: Control (PC) or Command (Mac) + F. Type the words in the pop-up box to jump directly to them on the page.
On the search results page, click Image results in the menu. This allows you to quickly spot sites with images that appear to be applicable to your search goal. Click the image to visit the site.
Use the quotations marks search operator in all of the free Google tools.
Learn More with These Resources
Book: Cooke, Lisa Louise, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Genealogy Gems Publications, print. Video Series: Cooke, Lisa Louise, Google Earth for Genealogy digital video download series, Genealogy Gems Publications, For a limited time use coupon code EARTH11 to get 25% off both of the resources above at the Genealogy Gems Store here.
Use code EARTH11 to get 25% off
Answers to Your Questions
Gwynn: If I have a My Google Map and pin on those will they show up on the google maps desktop version or do I have to redo them? For example, I have a map of Ohio with ancestor dates and locations.
Lisa: Google has recently added a button to the toolbar that will take you to Google Earth on Chrome. So, if you are looking at your placemark on the map and you click that button, it will open the same general location in Chrome, but currently it will not bring the placemark with it. I would not be surprised at all though if we see that functionality in the future.
Ceirra: I played with Google Earth from last week but couldn’t get back to even 1937???
Lisa: If you mean there were no Rumsey Maps (in the Layers panel) in a particular area, that’s not uncommon. That’s where pulling maps from other sources like the David Rumsey website can help. He has 100,000 maps digitized, searchable and downloadable that you can then use to create an overlay in Google Earth. And there are many, many other online sources for old maps. Read: The Best Way to Find Old Maps for Genealogy at the David Rumsey Website
Cynthia: If we have something from our relatives, what is the best way to put it on the internet to share with others?
Lisa: I really think posting on your own blog is the best way to share. It also provides a vehicle for being found by other researchers interested in your family when they Google. I have videos on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel explaining how to set up a free Blogger blog.
MargtheCar: Are quotation marks case sensitive?
Steve: If you had two different spellings of a name, do you run separate searches for put both spellings in one search?
Lisa: You could run this search: “washington mcclellan” OR “Washington mcclelland”
Kelli: I ordered google toolbox 3. I have the first two. Are they worth sharing – or have things changed enough that I should just toss them? Shelf space, you know :).
Lisa: They are worth sharing if you warn them may encounter some things that no longer work or have changed. Search has some of the biggest changes. The Google Earth section hasn’t changed much since the last edition of the book.
K M Vaughan: Can we legally use the image from the library?
Gwynn: Lisa, what do you think of the new google books viewer, Im not a fan because I cant see the source.
Lisa: It takes getting used to, I agree! But I think the overview page is actually quite an improvement. I’m publishing a newly updated version of my class Google Books: the Tool I Use Every Day in Premium membership that features the new viewer.
Karen: Can you use – minus?
Lisa: Yes indeed. Here’s an example of combining quotation marks and minus sign in the same query: “Richard Lincoln” -abraham – president
Robyn: I don’t find that the 1850..1880 works for me. What could I be doing wrong
Lisa: Problems could include:
Running the search on mobile
You have a space in the string – no spaces
There are no available results that include those numbers
Using more or less than 2 periods
K M Vaughan: Can your Google tools on mobile
Lisa: Yes, all the tools (such as Google Books, Scholar, Patents, etc.) can all be used on mobile, however you may find some minor differences, and some search operators may not work.
Cynthia: I have been trying to find the marriage certificate of my grandmother and her 3 husband, in 1953 and cannot find anything. What can I do to marrow the search
Lisa: Without the benefit of seeing the specific situation, I would recommend focusing your search on the record collection you need rather than the names of individual ancestors. I go into detail on this strategy in the book.
Carolyn: What did you use to make the video?
Lisa: I used Camtasia which I LOVE. Stay tuned, because next week we’re going to talk about making videos and some of the my favorite free tools as well.
Doug: What tool do you use to create the entries in Google Earth for the presentation (the autoplay part)?
From Lisa: I used Camtasia. Stay tuned, because next week we’re going to talk about making videos!
Blenheim Palace Grand Cabinet china. Learn more about Blenheim Palace, the home of Winston Churchill, at the website.
Garden-side tea time at Blenheim Palace
The best part about teaching is when I get to hear back from you about what resonated with you, and how you used what you heard to make a wonderful discovery. Doris has been a Genealogy Gems premium member since 2015 and she wrote to say “I’m finally listening to the Elevenses series! Just watched Episode 1 and wanted to share a find.”
Doris explained how she used my tip on being sure to turn the page of passport application records to ensure you don’t miss additional pages. She made quite a discovery!
Thank you to Doris for sharing her story. I sent her the video I created and the photo that I enhanced and colorized at MyHeritage.
Please give our videos a thumbs up at YouTube: As a friend of the show, will you please give the videos a thumbs up (you’ll find the icon just below each video) and leave a comment? Your input makes a huge difference in encouraging YouTube to distribute the show – and it warms my heart too, thank you!
Did you give this Google search operator a try in your genealogy searching this week? Please share your experience. And of course I’m always interested in your questions and feedback. Please leave a comment below. This is your chance to join our community’s conversation!
A while back I received an email from Tim. He writes:
“I’m getting back into genealogy in a meaningful way now that my dissertation is done and I realized that I don’t know what to do with all the ‘stuff’ I’ve taken photos of, picked up at yard sales, etc., that could be of genealogical value to someone but not me. I’ve got yearbooks, pictures of the genealogy information inside family bibles, etc. I used to be able to scan and submit to Mocavo for the world to use but that’s gone. With the Rootsweb mailing lists shutting down, do you have recommendations for where I can submit these things so they benefit others?”
As a matter of I do have a few recommendations for you!
These days a free blog is your own genealogy bulletin board with much greater reach than Rootsweb had. It’s a great way to get the word out about items that you have that you would like to reunite with their families.
Blogger.com (Google’s free blogging platform) is a good choice.
In addition to a photo, include as much text as you can that describes the item.
Tag the items with surnames, record types, and locations.
Encourage people to email you or leave a comment to get in touch.
Interview with Carly Kidd-Osborn
If you have an item that you picked up along your genealogical travels that belongs to someone else’s family history, the Shrubs to Trees – A Pay-It-Forward Genealogy Facebook Group can help. Caryl Kidd-Osborn is the Administrator, and in this episode she explains how the group has helped return over 1500 items to families and how you can enlist their help.
From Caryl: “We are almost 2 years old and in that time we have returned over 1500 “lost” memorabilia items to living family. We’ve given back photos, bronze baby shoes, sheet music that was written by someone’s family member, a marriage license and even someone’s cremains. We aren’t a very big group but we have some wonderful folks who just jump right in with researching the items. It’s a private group since we are dealing with living people. It’s very much a collaboration. Our members are genealogists who, like me, just can’t leave an antique store without taking someone else’s family home with them!”
Here are just a few examples of the precious items that the group has managed to return to grateful families:
Reunited: Little Renee’s baby shoes
Reunited: A photo of Frances Payne. “Our cutest return,” says Caryl.
Reunited: Andrew Johney and Maggie Bosley marriage license. This was found at a dump.
Sarah Fooks Tutherly – photo went to the Historical Society in Laurel, DE. The Fooks family was a prominent family in that town, she was a DAR member.
Reunited: The Vandermaas family. The parents had died before the children were of that age so this is a composite of the whole family.
GEM: Top 10 Strategies for Finding School Records for Genealogy
Click here for the complete article on strategies for finding school records.
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Google search expert Lisa Louise Cooke advises a genealogist on three ways to improve Google search results. See how these little improvements can make a big difference in your own Google searches!
This Genealogist Wants to Improve Google Search Results
Gene from Phoenix recently watched a free webinar in which I talked about improving Google search results for genealogy and then sent me this follow-up email:
“Lisa, I enjoyed the free webinar, Thank you!
I tried your suggestions for searching Google but still can’t get what I want.
My ancestor was Moses Fountain (possibly from NY but can only find him in IN)
I put in “Moses Fountain” 1800-1832 -Italy -Rome -hotel
When my search comes up the first page is all of the hotel & fountain in Rome, Italy. There is no genealogy (all my inquiries) until page 2. I cannot -New York as he may have come from there, so I’ll continue to get Albany fountain (like the water fountain.) Thanks for any suggestions you might have.” -Gene in Phoenix, AZ
3 Powerful Techniques that can Improve Google Search Results
Kudos to Gene for jumping onto Google and giving it a go after the webinar. Getting started is the most important part of achieving genealogical success! In order to improve Google search results, Gene needs to make a few adjustments to tell Google more specifically what is wanted:
1. Use the Google search operators correctly
First, Gene will need to fix the numrange search. If you haven’t watched the webinar yet (what are you waiting for?) a numrange search is when you give Google two four-digit numbers and specify that you only want webpages included in your search results that have a four-digit number that falls within that range. And of course years are expressed in four-digit numbers, so this is incredibly useful for genealogists. Gene has a dash between the two numbers (a very logical approach since this is how we are used to expressing a range), but a numrange search requires two periods instead, like this:
2. Add a Google search term to narrow results.
Gene didn’t see genealogical search results until page 2 of the results. An easy way to bring pages related to genealogy to the forefront of the results is to add the word genealogy to your search query:
As you can see above, this improves things quite a bit. Isn’t it amazing what a difference one well-chosen keyword can make to improve Google search results?
3. Consider carefully which Google search terms to remove
Gene removed some irrelevant search results by placing a minus sign directly in front of the search terms Italy, Rome, and hotel. This tells Google to subtract all pages from search results that contain these words. This is a very powerful tool, particularly when it comes to ancestors who have common surnames. (For instance, if you were researching an ancestor named John Lincoln, your results would be inundated with results for President Abraham Lincoln, simply due to the volume of pages that mention him. If John was not related to this famous president, you could add -Abraham and -president to your search query, and his footprints on your results would be dramatically reduced.) By the way, notice that the minus sign touches the word it is removing. There should be no space between the minus and the word.
But Gene continues to get irrelevant search results relating to a Moses Fountain in Washington Park, Albany, New York. The concern expressed here is that removing New York may inadvertently remove good search results, since this ancestor may have been from New York. Instead of removing New York, why not subtract a more targeted search term, such as Albany or Washington Park? Since it’s also possible that Moses Fountain was from Albany, I’d start by removing Washington Park.
How can you subtract a whole phrase? Put quotation marks around it so that Google understands it is a phrase and not two separate words that are unconnected. Then put a minus sign right in front of it. In Gene’s case, it would look like this: -“Washington Park.” The resulting search results eliminate the reference to the fountain in Albany:
Improve Google search results even more dramatically
Watch this free 90-minute webinar and learn more about improving your Google searches for genealogy, along with other powerful strategies for reconstructing your family history. While you’re watching, subscribe to the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel to keep up with the many free video tutorials we publish there!
We have five strategies for researching disasters for family history. They come in response to a listener email about her own “disaster-prone family.” Use these tips to learn about natural or man-made disasters, epidemics, travel accidents, and more that affected your ancestors, and very possibly more about your ancestors role in these events.
View of Eastland taken from Fire Tug in river, showing the hull resting on it’s side on the river bottom. Wikimedia Commons image; click to view with full citation.
It might seem a little sad to search out disasters, epidemics, and accidents in the lives of your ancestors, but it certainly helps us see things in a different light. Genealogy Gems Editor Sunny Morton has shared recently how enthralling it has been for her to dig deeper into her ancestor’s experience of living through the Johnstown Flood. She used many of the tools I write about extensively in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Google Books, Google Earth Pro, and even YouTube) to add an amazing amount of meat to the bones of the story.
I also recently received an inspiring letter from Natalie, a Genealogy Gems Premium Member about how researching disasters in her family history turned her into a passionate genealogist. Here’s what she said:
“Dear Lisa and Company,
I just subscribed to your Premium podcast and must say that listening to Premium Podcast episode 143 affirmed that I made an excellent decision!
I also had family members who were in the Johnstown Flood, since that’s where my family initially immigrated. My parents and I were born there and [I] have heard of stories of the Great Flood of 1889 since I can remember. There was a long-standing family story about my 2nd great-aunt, Julia Pfeiffer Rohr, being pulled out of the floodwaters by her hair.
Ironically or not, my ancestors relocated to Chicago a few years after the Johnstown Flood, only to have my maternal grandmother’s sister (who was a few months away from her 19th birthday) killed while aboard the Eastland [steamship in 1915]. Not sure why some families are ‘disaster prone’ through the generations, but ours seems to be one of those.
I learned about the Eastland Disaster as an adult when my mother’s half-sister in Chicago wrote and shared a family history with me. As a Twin Cities journalist, I published an article (click here and go to page 5) in one of the community newspapers about the disaster.
Still, at the time, I found next to nothing on the Eastland, which was both frustrating and puzzling. [Since then,] I’ve done a ton of research on the event and have written larger pieces, including a to-be published book. I didn’t intend to become an expert on a shipping disaster, but that’s what happened. Also, this marked my entrance into the amazing world of family history.”
5 Tips for Researching Disasters in Family History
Learn more about the disasters your own family experienced with these 5 tips that I shared with Natalie in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 145. Although these tips are for researching the Eastland disaster specifically, you can absolutely put them to work for you!
1. Start with Google.The world’s leading search engine, Google.com can lead to rich resources you may never find in a local library or archive. In the case of the Eastland disaster, a Google search immediately brought up a website dedicated to the event. The casualty list had everyone’s name, age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, and the cemetery in which they were buried.
2.Next, we go to Google Books, where Google takes you deeper and more specifically into historical books. Using the Eastland disaster as our criteria, the first result was a published final report by the American Red Cross’ disaster relief committee on what happened, and how the affected families were helped. Several published histories of the disaster were also listed there. These can be purchased, or you can find copies of them through inter-library loan at your local library. If you just want to see which books in the search results can be read for free, click the Tools button under the search box, and a new menu bar will pop up. Click Any books, then choose Free Google eBooks, like so:
Watch my free video tutorial on finding free e-books on Google. This video is one in a series of tech tip videos available for free at my YouTube channel. Click the Subscribe button while you’re there and you will be notified each time a new genealogy video is published.
3. Keep checking back! New things come online every moment of every day. In 2015, historical video footage about the Eastland disaster was discovered and identified in an online archive (see my blog post about that). But of course it’s impossible to rerun the same searches every day looking for new and updated material. The answer: set up a Google Alert for your search query. That way Google will do the searching for you, and you will receive an email only when Google finds new and updated items that match your search terms. Read my article on How to Set-up Google Alerts for step by step instructions on how to set up your own Google Alerts. Then read How to get the Most out of your Google Alerts for Genealogy.
5. Explore Gendisasters.com.This site compiles information on all kinds of tragedies from the past: tornadoes, fires, floods, and buggy-related disasters are just a small sampling of what they cover. You can search by type of disaster, but if you’re not quite sure how it might be filed (like was it a drowning or a ship disaster?), then search by year or place. I looked for Eastland disaster first under ship disasters, and I saw that events are listed alphabetically by place, specifically by city in most cases. There isn’t a way to jump easily to “Chicago,” so I had to scroll through several pages, but I did find it under Chicago, IL Steamer Eastland Disaster, July 1915. Since I already knew the city and date, I could have gotten to it faster by searching under those tabs, but I sure saw just how many events are cataloged at Gendisasters.com. It’s amazing!
Avoid Disaster with the Right Tools
Lastly, some of the disasters you are researching may have a website dedicated to it. The Eastland disaster webpage has several interesting pictures of the ship and the disaster itself. There’s a nice long narrative about the tragedy and some transcribed newspaper articles, as well.
Researching disasters for family history can be exciting and enjoyable. The world wide web is truly like a time machine. See what other ways you can use Google for genealogy in my book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.Effective Google searches, Google Earth, Google Alerts, and Google Translate are just the tip of the iceberg! You will become a Google guru in no time.
Google searches for genealogy are a main focus of our Google Guru, Lisa Louise Cooke. Read this inspiring story of how one Genealogy Gems reader used Lisa’s Google search tips to find a trove of family stories worthy of an opera.
Opera house image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.
You never know when the amazing technology of the internet and Google will lead to a discovery that will open the doors on your family history. I recently received a letter from Genealogy Gems listener, Kristen. She shared the sad tale of her maternal grandmother’s history. Her grandmother had lost her mother before the age of two. Then, as an only child, her father abandoned her to be raised by a less-than-loving step mother. This young woman grew-up and had children of her own, but all she had in the way of a family history was the memory of her father’s name and a handful of unnamed photographs.
Kristen went on to say, “She never really spoke of her sad childhood, save to say that the stepmother would tell her she had always been unwanted and that her mother was unloved and the marriage was forced.”
Among the handful of mystery photographs of her grandmother as a child, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners titled Silence is Golden and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman was attached.
Using Clues for Google Searches for Genealogy
Here’s the rest of Kristen’s letter:
I took your advice and Googled Merton Markert Modern Classical Silence Golden. Up came the Lancaster High School Yearbook for 1905, featuring p. 41, the senior class portraits with their course study descriptions and a small personal quote for each. There was that exact photo of her, and the name Merton Markert, Modern Classical with the quote, “Life seems a jest of Fate’s contriving.”
The whole yearbook had been digitized by Mocavo, and it is the only yearbook for that high school in several years. My great-grandmother [Merton Markert], who had been buried and unspoken for a hundred years, had reached out to me. She wanted me to find her! Lisa, I cannot adequately describe the feelings I experienced at that moment of discovery. You understand how a moment like that feels, I’m sure. The chills, the tears…I felt like I was staring into her eyes, reaching through a century of silence, and finally able to acknowledge her sacrifice and legacy.
On the football team that year was my great-grandfather, and the whole book was ripe with clues that still hold nuanced significance.
From there, I was able to grow a tree on Ancestry.com and get the basics. But that does not tell you who the person is, the struggles, the character, the story. So taking your lead, and thinking like my brother the Sherriff Detective, I got creative. Using all kinds of searches and sniffing and turning over and under, I was able to uncover a veritable opera’s worth of stories within this one branch [of my family tree]. The cast of characters include: A Colonial founder, a secret bastard half-sister, a suicidal mother, a Klondike Gold Stampeder, alcoholics, a rejected Baptist Pastor, a homosexual affair-turned-murder victim, a bonafide Monuments Man (buried at Arlington), and a chorus of war veterans. And cancer. Lots of it. In fact, breast cancer was the reason for Merton’s death in 1910. That kind of information is vital to my sisters and female cousins.
So thank you, my clever inspiration.
Ain’t opera grand?
Lisa’s Response to Kristen with Additional Ideas
Thanks for sharing your fascinating story. I completely understand the emotions you felt the moment she was looking back at you on the screen. Those moments are precious and meant to be savored!
Using search techniques from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition,I also discovered this same yearbook on the robust and free Internet Archive website. Perhaps there is more there to be found. And I have an additional idea I thought you might like to try. It’s Ebay.
Genealogy Gems Premium Members can listen to Premium episode 16 which goes in depth into my Tips for Finding Family History Related Items on eBay.
More on Google Searches for Genealogy
Google is an effective and easy-to-use genealogy tool, you just need to know a few basics. Watch my YouTube video on speaking Google’s language and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss any of our tech tips and more!