6 ‘Secret’ Google Search Tricks for Genealogy That’ll Help You Find Your Ancestors

Most of us use Google search to look for our ancestors on a regular basis. After all, once we’re done searching our favorite family history sites directly, Google is our best bet for locating new records online.

But finding valuable data via Google search can be hard since there are so many sites, and so many pages of data. After typing in an ancestor’s name and a few details we often find that we’ve turned up hundreds or thousands of results, and most of them are irrelevant.

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While this is true for all inquires via search, it is especially true for family history searches because many sites have published long lists of names and dates, including family trees, transcribed book pages and records. This is great news for research, but turning up relevant pages is tricky. Even if you’re careful to enter specific details into your searches you may not successfully limit results to the ones you want.

Luckily, Google is a pretty smart search engine and can help you reveal just what you’re looking for — if you know the ‘secrets.’

Below we have walked you through 6 of these hidden search tips that will help you locate your ancestors much more quickly. We are using an example ancestor — James Wilcox, married to Mahala and born in 1837 — to illustrate each trick.

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For those who may not have spent a great deal of time searching Google for family history, we’ve included 3 important and somewhat common tricks, as well as the more advanced tricks in our list.

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6 Google Search Tricks

1. Apply Quotation Marks

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Also known as a string search this is one of the best, and most obvious ways, to limit search results in Google. When you type in a name like James Wilcox, Google will search the entire title and text of pages for those terms. They do not need to be related to each other – so you may turn up a page with James and Wilcox, but not necessarily a page where these terms appear together.

Use “James Wilcox” or “Wilcox, James” to limit results (remember that many genealogy related sites place the last name first). Also apply quotations around terms like “obituary” to make them exact — otherwise Google will substitute other words like ‘death’ or ‘died.’ This can be helpful in some situations, but for others is can be a big hassle and turn up many unwanted results.

quotations

 

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2. Use the Minus Sign

Oftentimes when we are searching for ancestors, especially those with common names, we may find that a certain person or location we’re NOT looking for turns up again and again, clouding our results. For instance, a James Wilcox who lived in Somerset keeps coming up for us. He’s definitely not our guy, so we’ll exclude the term Somerset.

Place a minus sign before a term to exclude these unwanted results (Example: “wilcox, james” 1837 mahala -somerset). The minus sign can be placed in front of many terms to further refine results ( -dunbar -somerset -1907) or term strings (-“Wilcox, James Robinson”). Just make sure that the minus sign is placed directly before the term with no space in between. This works to exclude specific sites as well (-rootsweb).

minus_sign

 

3. Get Site Specific Results

Would you like to get search results only for a specific website, such as FamilySearch?

Use ‘site:SITEURL’ before a term or terms to do this. Example: site:familysearch.org “wilcox, james” –note that we didn’t place a space between ‘site:’ and the url and that we didn’t include the ‘http://www’ part either.

site

 

4. Search Only Page Titles

When looking for a specific ancestor is can be very helpful to have the pages you turn up only be ones that focus on that individual alone. Or, when searching for a surname, to find articles centered around that specific last name. Making sure a search term appears in the title of the page is a good way to do this. This isn’t always true of course, and you’ll miss a lot of results this way, but when looking for discussions about a person, biographies or in-depth data it can be a very helpful trick.

To search only web page titles use ‘allintitle:’ Example: allintitle: “Wilcox, James.” You can also search only the text, and exclude the titles, by using ‘allintext:’

allintitle

 

5. Search a Date Range

This is one of the best and most underused Google search tips for genealogists. This super cool trick lets you search multiple dates at one time without having to enter them individually. This is hugely helpful if you are looking for birth, marriage or death records (or any date based source) but don’t know the exact date of an event.

Just add DATE..DATE to your search box to accomplish this (two periods in between the dates like this 1900..1910).  For instance, we know that James Wilcox was most likely born between 1835 and 1839 based on the information we have, so we could search for “Wilcox, James” 1835..1839. This will bring up only pages that include one or all of the dates 1835, 1836, 1837, 1838 and 1839. It will not exclude pages that include other dates (which we usually would not want to do.) But if we did want to do that we could exclude any date by typing -DATE, such as -1840 after our other terms.

date range

 

6. Search for Terms Near Each Other

One of the most frustrating things about searching for ancestors in Google is that, while the engine will search an entire page for your terms, your terms may not have any association to each other. As mentioned early on in this article, that can cause major problems for genealogists since many pages include long lists of dates and names. It is entirely possible, for example, to find the exact names, dates and other details you’re looking for — but not in relation to each other in any way. For instance, our searches for James Wilcox and 1837 turned up pages that include James Wilcox and the date 1837, but that date was often applied to other people on the page.

However, there is a way to ask Google to find terms near each other! Enter AROUND(1) between terms to do this. An example would be: “James Wilcox” AROUND(10) 1837. That means we want Google to look for pages where the exact name James Wilcox appears within 10 words of the date 1837. You can change the modifying number to anything you want (“James Wilcox” AROUND(3) 1837 or “James Wilcox AROUND(1) Mahala) a lower number means a closer association and thus, usually, fewer results. We can also apply this to multiple terms (Example: “Wilcox, James” AROUND(10) Mahala AROUND(5) 1837). You will be blown away by how much this helps you find more relevant results.

around

 

We hope these ‘secret’ tips help you in your Google genealogy searches! Don’t forget to combine them to maximize your results. And, when you’re done trying these out, check out our Google Image Search for Genealogy help article for more tips. 

Note: Sometimes when you apply these operators, especially if you do so several times in a row, Google may check to make sure you’re a real person and not a computer by transferring you to a captcha verification page. Don’t worry, just type in the characters and proceed  — and try not to get too excited that you’re geeky enough to be considered a computer by Google. 🙂

Image: Baltimore, MD. Every individual Social Security Account is listed in several ways in the Social Security Board Records Office. 1937. Library of Congress

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41 thoughts on “6 ‘Secret’ Google Search Tricks for Genealogy That’ll Help You Find Your Ancestors”

  1. Good tips! Some of your readers may be interested in a free tool that uses the advanced search techniques mentioned in this article. It produces an advanced Google Search for you so you can more easily uncover mentions of an ancestor that otherwise get buried in thousands of less relevant Google search results. Just Google ” AncestorSearch: Google Custom Search “

  2. Thanks for the tip to look for the surname in the title of the page when searching online. My mom is looking for missing people in our family tree, so I’m helping her out. We’ll have to see if we can find her maiden name on any sites so we can see if those people are related to us.

  3. Wow! Last night i was trying to find some info and tried to Google the name and town. BINGO! I was following lead after lead until 2:00am! Thanks so much for these hints to “Search smsrter not harder”. I certainly do appreciate them.

  4. I am hoping that you might have an article on illegal immigrants. My daughter in-laws mother immigrated from So. America in the 1960’s. In USA she used false names and moved around a lot. Thanks for any info.

  5. The woman in the picture looks so much like my mother that I had to click in and see where the photo was taken!

  6. These are great tips! I’ve also used the Google book search and have found a ton of information. This is especially useful if your ancestors were early American settlers. You can often find the book and the passage with the info regarding your ancestor. It’s helped me to get un-stuck many times!

  7. I Googled my gggf who died in 1899, and has been a solid brick wall for me. Lo and behold, a book pops up that mentions him! I have been working on him for two decades, and there is a freakin’ book! Are you kidding me? I ordered the book immediately. Although there were only a few mentions over two or three pages, and most I already knew, it did confirm, as I had long suspected, that gggf and gggm had known each other long before they married, even though they lived in different states. Plus, it is cool to see gggf, gggm, great-great-uncles, and my ggf all mentioned in a book. So, yes, I believe Google is a helpful tool for genealogists.

    1. I have been searching forEVER, too! I know how frustrating it is! Congratulations on finally finding something so significant! Awesome find!

  8. Many people in my classes will say, “I didn’t know you could use Google for genealogy research!” And all 6 of these hints (and more) can do wonders. Also note that when you’re at the Google.com home page, there is a “Settings” link in the lower right-hand corner. Click it and you’ll get a drop “up” menu. From there, click “Advanced Search.” There, you’ll find fields that you can fill in for all of these 6 helpful hints and more. Good luck and always start your on-line family research with Google!

    Great post!

  9. Great post, thanks a lot. I have a similiar problem to Peggy Patrick – one of my surnames is Virtue and you’d be amazed at how many google brings up. I shall try the “Virtue Family” option but feel that this will definately limit a lot of good stuff.

    1. Hi Bobbie
      I have the same problem with a maternal ancestor’s surname “Standing” whst I do is type surname:Standing … so, no gaps either side of :
      All you need to do is swap Standing for Virtue. Good luck, Heather

  10. I am not good at researching on computers (or even using computers) , or how to go about getting information on family history.. any help is greatly appreciated

    1. I have helped others and do my own..Who what where are you looking for..? Email me..in the subject type Gen.Help. bluebarron1 at gmail dot com

  11. It would be even better if Google would release a proper search interface for its own newspaper archive (https://news.google.com/newspapers) that provides results further back than 1982! This archive was acquired, in part, from Paper of Record in the early 2000s, with the promise that it would be offered as a searchable database. It’s a gold mine of information, but searching it is unnecessarily slow and painstaking. I hope you will lend your voice to have Google fix this.

    1. Sue G, I know lot tricks, but lot people don’t them, Google right to know all of searchers, but so much easy this way. But like to say to you on another matter, I would love to talk and for people to here me, but for some reason my voice on this computer, disappared and this not Google Book either, so trust me on this I would love for google fix this issues, and love people contact me too.

  12. My People Locating Agency Specializes in locating Heirs to estates worldwide, as well as reuniting individuals whom have been touched by adoption. If anyone needs assistance feel free to contact us directly. We do not charge a fee unless we locate the party you are searching for.

  13. I’m very unhappy to hear of the upcoming changes. I would like to know how I can go about saving the information I have on both sites.
    Please send me that information
    ASAP!!!!

  14. The last tip I had never heard before, thanks. Now tell me how I can limit results with family names such as French & James. I don’t care to be related to Jesse James!

      1. Try “The French Family”. You will get quite a bit of “French” whatevers, but it would narrow down the search. The more you become specific of the search, better the chance of being able to find specific information. Anytime you put multiple words in quotes, you will get more specific information. There are also some instances where you may have to broaden your search.

  15. That is great thanks very much! I am going to use it to find a particular person, fingers crossed! lol! so far my findmypast search is going great but there are a couple that I can’t find, nell

  16. Very useful. Thank you I did not know any of this but I did know that was some means of reducing the amount of hits that you get when you search on google. Any more tips like this most welcome.

    Thank You,

    David.

    1. This article is an excellent resource for finding ancestors. Only one helpful element was left out of the recommendations regarding LIMITING search results. The site: command was mentioned. However if you wish to ELIMINATE full sites or even domains, here’s the operator to use.

      Examples: You have extracted all of the available family information from ancestry.com. Many extraneous results from ancestry always adds to the clutter you must sort through. Let’s eliminate results from ancestry to narrow the information. -site:ancestry.com blocks all ancestry results from your search. You can use the -site: as many times as you like in the query. You are searching for ancestors in France, but your search returns information from the UK which is of no use. -site:co.uk OR -site:.uk (.mil / .navy.mil / .int / .org / .com / .net / et al can be filtered.)

      Here’s the real power of the already mentioned SITE query. Most of us would go to the main web page for the Library of Congress and have to find the search feature and resource database to query. Use the back door approach.

      site:loc.gov and simply add the term you wish to find. Try this search to locate resources in the library containing specific family information. site:loc.gov sorrel “new iberia” This is to locate all references to sorrel (family NOT horse) with references to the city of New Iberia, LA. (Remember if too many sorrel horse references simply use
      -horse -pony -mare)

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