This page was last updated 2014-05-29
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2014 Donald R. Snow

My Freeware Corner Notes are printed in our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group monthly newsletter TAGGology and posted on my Family History Class Notes webpage , sometimes with updated information there.



This month I will discuss a few helpful tips for using the freeware Google search engine.  This is not a program you can download and use.  Also, you must be connected to the Internet, but it has some wonderful search capabilities for family history and is free.  Here are some helpful URLs about searching in Google.

Below are examples of search tips for Google.  In each case, when typing the search terms into Google, leave out the outside quote marks.  Some of these work in other search engines, too.

1.     To highlight the search terms on the found websites there are extensions to use in the browser, e.g. in Firefox, add the extension Find All.  The URL is .  This adds a toolbar to Firefox that includes a Google entry box and a button to click to toggle highlights of the search terms in the websites you find.  It is very helpful to see where the search terms occur on the websites so you don't have to read through every line.  If you have several search terms in the search, it shows each in a different color so they are easy to spot.  Other browsers have similar extensions.  To find them do Google searches for things like "highlight search query words chrome".

2.     When you want to search only a specific website for terms, do a site search, e.g. in Google enter " freeware" and you get all my class notes that contain the word "freeware".  Don't put any space between "site:" and the URL, but do leave a space after the website before the search terms you want.  Try it on my notes to find all places where I've mentioned OCR (= Optical Character Recognition).  Or try it on to find all mentions of Mac for Macintosh computers.  I've even found it helpful on to find info on people, e.g. try " "donald r. snow"" to find where I am listed in the FamilySearch Catalog or " "eldon stafford snow"" to go to my Dad's photos and stories page.  This is all without signing in to FamilySearch.  There are also some extensions for your browser that will allow you to search only within the site you find, e.g. for the browser Opera such an extension is called Search Within The Site.

3.     To limit the Google search to a specific time period include, for example, "1800..1900" in the search terms.  Here's an example: to find results about my ancestor, Richard Snow, who shows up on a tax list in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1645 and we think he was born in England in about 1598, I can search for ""r?chard snow" 1590..1600 england massachusetts 1645".  The double quote marks around r?chard snow are so that it will search for the name in that form.  The question mark ? is so that it will also find words like rychard or any other letter in the second place.  The [number]..[number] also works to limit searches to things like prices, e.g. "$50..$100" or sizes, e.g. "property 1 acre..2 acres woburn massachusetts".

4.     The AROUND(n) command narrows down searches to where the terms occur within (n) words of each other.  It is what is called a proximity search.  For example, ""richard snow" AROUND(10) avis" will find websites with Richard Snow mentioned within 10 words of Avis, which was his wife's name.  You can sometimes find marriages this way.  Try ""joseph smith" AROUND(10) emma".  This can also be used to narrow down your searches to particular areas, e.g. ""richard snow" AROUND(10) barbados".  This finds websites about the Richard Snow who arrived in Barbados in the Caribbean in 1635 and who many have assumed was the same Richard Snow as in Woburn, Massachusetts 10 years later.  There is no evidence that they are the same person and some evidence that they are not.

5.     To exclude hits that you know aren't what you want use a minus (-) sign in front of the term, e.g. ""richard snow" massachusetts -benjamin -nicholas".  This search excludes any mention of Benjamin or Nicholas, both of whom were Snows in Massachusetts in the Colonial times.  Put the -sign right next to the term to exclude, i.e. don't leave a space between them.  Or, if there is a well-known doctor with that same name as your ancestor, you can include -doctor in the search to eliminate those false hits.

6.     To include terms that mean much the same as your search terms include a tilde (~) in front of the term. e.g. ~genealogy.  Again, no space between the ~ and the term.  The tilde is usually on your keyboard in the upper left hand corner next to the 1.  This tells Google to include searches for words like family history, family tree, history, etc.  There is no complete list of all the words Google uses when the ~ is used, but you can generate such a list of synonyms by subtracting out terms as you see them, e.g. start with "murgatroyd ~genealogy" and note that genealogical also occurs, so next search for "murgatroyd ~genealogy -genealogical"; note additional words that occur and subtract them out, etc.

7.     The Scholar search in Google is done by going to and doing the search, e.g. searching for ""richard snow" ~genealogy" in the Scholar search only searches websites with scholarly information, e.g. journals. These are usually more reliable than the general search, but of course, may eliminate websites you want.

8.     To find GEDCOM files online that include people you are interested in include "ged" as a search term since all GEDCOM files have that as their extension.  For example, searching for ""richard snow" ged" brings back hits that include GEDCOM files.  The "+index" term sometimes helps since most GEDCOM files have an Index File that they are linked to.  To find pdf's that include your ancestor, add "pdf", e.g. ""richard snow" pdf".

9.     If you find a helpful webpage and want to find others that may be related, use the Related command, e.g. "".

10.     To find all URLs linked to a particular website use the link command, e.g. "".  This may lead you to other websites with information you want that don't happen to have the search terms in them.

There are many other Google search techniques for family history, but these may help you find new information on your ancestors that you didn't know about before.

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