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Smart Internet Searching for Genealogists


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13 May 2008, "Smart Internet Searching for Genealogists," Craven County Genealogy Society, New Bern, NC

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Smart Internet Searching for Genealogists

  1. 1. Jordan Jones<br />GenealogyMedia.Com<br /><br />Craven County Genealogical Society <br />13 May 2008<br />Smart Internet Searching for Genealogists<br />
  2. 2. ONE MUST START WITH A DISCUSSION OF ACCESS …<br />1 – Access: Search and Navigation<br />
  3. 3. The Librarian’s Definition<br />© 2008 <br />3<br />“The availability of or permission to use records.” <br />– Archives & Records Management Handbook, Oregon State U.,<br />“… the purpose of librarianship – enabling people to identify, locate, and use the information that will meet their … needs.”<br />– The Information Professional’s Glossary, SIRLS, Arizona State U.,<br />
  4. 4. The Web Technologist’s Definition<br />© 2008 <br />4<br /><ul><li>For web sites, access similarly describes the permission and ability for people to “identify, locate, and use information.”
  5. 5. As of 2005, there were more than 11.5 billion web pages ( </li></ul> So how do you access the genealogical information you’re looking for?<br />
  6. 6. Web Access<br />© 2008 <br />5<br />Navigation – That is, clicking through a pre-defined path in a website to find the information you need. <br /> A good navigation path is like a searchlight in fog.<br />Search – Search is especially helpful: <br />If you do not even know what website to use, or <br />If you need to find information on a website and do not know how to navigate to the information.<br />
  7. 7. Search Types<br />© 2008 <br />6<br />There are two kinds of search:<br /><ul><li>Full-text search – Every significant word is part of the search (Google, NewspaperArchive, Footnote)
  8. 8. Database search – Words are searched against particular fields in a database, such as “surname” or “state” (Ancestry,, NewspaperArchive, Footnote)</li></ul> It’s important to keep in mind which kind of search you’re performing. A full-text search will not know a surname from any other collection of characters.<br />
  9. 9. Design for Access<br />© 2008 <br />7<br /> A good web designer will focus on improving customer success through both paths (search and navigation) to the information<br />
  10. 10. There are several kinds of search …<br />© 2008 <br />8<br />2 – Search<br />
  11. 11. How Search Engines Work<br />© 2008 <br />9<br /><ul><li>Web-Crawling “Spiders”These programs “crawl” through all the links on the web
  12. 12. IndexingThe search engine creates and manages
  13. 13. CachingSome web search applications (such as Google) store caches of all the pages they crawl
  14. 14. RankingLinks delivered are ranked in terms of relevance, popularity, authoritativeness and other criteria: The Secret Sauce.</li></li></ul><li>Basic Searches<br />© 2008 <br />10<br /><ul><li>WordFind pages that include “Jane” and “Graham”.Google: To ignore plurals and synonyms, preface a term with a + sign.
  15. 15. PhraseFind pages that include “Jane Graham”.Google: “Search Phrase”.
  16. 16. ProximityFind pages where “Jane” is near “Graham”.Google: Term1 * Term2 OR Term2 * Term1 (where * = up to 2 words)
  17. 17. BooleanAND / OR / NOTGoogle: “Jane Graham” OR “Graham, Jane”</li></li></ul><li>Advanced Searches<br />© 2008 <br />11<br />Synonym or “like”Find pages with words like your search term or phrase. (More useful outside genealogy: On Google: ~cars returns cars, trucks, motorcycles.)<br />WildcardsSome sites allow wildcards (*_?) to replace one or more characters. Check the guidelines.<br />Site-specific Find pages in the site where …Google:<br />
  18. 18. More Advanced Searches <br />© 2008 <br />12<br />Exclude WordFind pages that don’t include a particular word. Google: –SearchTerm<br />Exclude PhraseFind pages that don’t include a particular phrase. Google: -“Search Phrase”<br />Exclude Specific Site Find pages, but exclude a specific site.Google: <br />Soundex – Available on many genealogy websites, and not only for census records.<br />
  19. 19. Methodologies <br />© 2008 <br />13<br />Look for advanced search pages<br />Read search guidelines on the site<br />Experiment<br />If you don’t find what you’re looking for, map out strategies for more specific searches<br />In other words, plan your more complex Internet searches the way you’d plan a trip to a major repository<br />
  20. 20. Most Sites Have Search Tips<br />© 2008 <br />14<br />Read the Tips<br />
  21. 21. Using Google to its Potential<br />© 2008 <br />15<br />3 – A Sample Search<br />
  22. 22. Finding Jane Graham<br />© 2008 <br />16<br />Facts: Jane Graham, was born in 1811 and died unmarried in 1854. She lived her life in Monroe County, VA (now WV).<br /> Q: How do I search for her on Google?<br />A: By increasing the specificity of my search.<br />
  23. 23. Jane Graham (402,000)<br />© 2008 <br />17<br />
  24. 24. “Jane Graham” (35,600)<br />© 2008 <br />18<br />
  25. 25. “Jane Graham” “Monroe County” (446)<br />© 2008 <br />19<br />
  26. 26. “Jane Graham” “Monroe County” 1854 (160)<br />© 2008 <br />20<br />
  27. 27. “Jane Graham” “Monroe County” 1811..1854 (39)<br />© 2008 <br />21<br />
  28. 28. Site-specific search on Google, and searches at, footnote<br />© 2008 <br />22<br />4 – Additional Search Examples<br />
  29. 29. Searching a Specific Site on Google<br />© 2008 <br />23<br />Say I want to know all of the mentions of the surname “Gregg” on the US GenNet site for Nance County, NE<br /><br />How do I do this?<br /><ul><li>I go to Google and search for:</li></ul>Gregg<br />
  30. 30. Results of the Site-Specific Search<br />© 2008 <br />24<br />
  31. 31. Basic Search<br />© 2008 <br />25<br />“Jane Graham”<br />
  32. 32. Basic Search Results<br />© 2008 <br />26<br />3,251 hits<br />
  33. 33. Advanced Search<br />© 2008 <br />27<br />“Jane Graham” 1853-1855<br />
  34. 34. Advanced Search Results<br />© 2008 <br />28<br />
  35. 35. Basic Search Results<br />© 2008 <br />29<br />36,602 Hits<br />
  36. 36. Footnote Advanced Search<br />© 2008 <br />30<br />Name, Date Range, and Specific Collection<br />
  37. 37. Footnote Advanced Search Results<br />© 2008 <br />31<br />
  38. 38. Stephen P. Morse’s One-Step Web Pages<br />© 2008 <br />32<br />No discussion of internet search for genealogists would be complete without a discussion of Stephen Morse’s One-Step Web Pages at: <br /><br />Morse uses “deep linking” to skip past multiple search pages and get directly to the content.<br />One great example is that the One-Step site allows you to search Ancestry (if you have an account) with surnames of fewer than 3 letters. It does this by sending 26 searches for each letter you don’t specify.<br />
  39. 39. The Morse Controversy<br />© 2008 <br />33<br />Some web managers have either blocked the One-Step pages or merely protested their side-effects.<br />The pages can limit a site’s ad revenue, as people skip pages with ads on their way to the information they seek.<br />The pages can cause a lot of traffic to come to a website, either by making it easy to submit what are essentially multiple requests with one click, or by providing better advertising than some smaller sites have received.<br />I’ll have more about this site in an answer to a question submitted.<br />
  40. 40. Resolution<br />© 2008 <br />34<br />The One-Step pages are a benefit to researchers<br />Morse has been able to work out most disputes, except with some larger companies. (And some sites have used his methods to improve their search capabilities.)<br />
  41. 41. Responses to questions received in advance …<br />© 2008 <br />35<br />Questions<br />
  42. 42. Page Modification Dates<br />© 2008 <br />36<br />Q: How can I know when a given web page was last updated? <br /><ul><li>A: Your browser can tell you when a page was last modified (Internet Explorer: Alt-F-R; Firefox: Alt-T-I; Google info:url). But this will not tell you if the update was important or not.</li></li></ul><li>Google Page Date Search<br />© 2008 <br />37<br />Expandable Portion of Advanced Search Window for Page Date, Numeric Range and other settings<br />
  43. 43. Google Page Date Result<br />© 2008 <br />38<br />
  44. 44. A Caveat About “Page Date” Searches on Google<br />© 2008 <br />39<br />Stephen Morse points out that Google is really tracking when they indexed a page, not when the page was last modified. <br />Probably a better search for the age of a web page is Stephen Morse’s : <br /><br />
  45. 45. Web Translation<br />© 2008 <br />40<br />Q: Are there any good web sites to help translate web pages written in another language? There are good sites in German but I can’t find a source to help me translate what they are saying.<br />A: There are several, though all are limited since real translation requires a human touch.<br /><br /><br /><br />
  46. 46. Google Appliance<br />© 2008 <br />41<br />Q: Godfrey Memorial Library has “Godfrey Search” on its Web site to search its databases. “Godfrey Search” is powered by an “appliance” provided by Google. What is an appliance and how does it differ from a general Google search?<br />A: The Google Search appliance is a server computer that indexes content on a specific site. <br /> Direct Google searches are often better, when you have the option of either, but Google cannot crawl the Godfrey Library site because it’s subscription based.<br />
  47. 47. The New FamilySearch<br />© 2008 <br />42<br />Q: How will the New FamilySearch impact other free and paid web sites? <br /><ul><li>A: This will depend on:
  48. 48. Content overlap
  49. 49. Rights and permissions issues</li></ul> By the way, in case anyone could use an overview of the new FamilySearch, Wikipedia’s article provides a brief take on it: <br /><br />
  50. 50. Evaluation of Quality<br />© 2008 <br />43<br /><ul><li>Q: How do you evaluate the info on a website as to its veracity?  </li></ul> It is one thing if it is a scanned copy of a document, i.e. a census, but it is troublesome when you get family info off of some websites (I would say FamilySearch in particular) and the info is wrong-it appears it was obtained by someone and sent in to the Church.  On some sites there is no citation at all.<br />Q: How do you evaluate the info on a website as to its veracity?  <br /> It is one thing if it is a scanned copy of a document, i.e. a census, but it is troublesome when you get family info off of some websites (I would say FamilySearch in particular) and the info is wrong-it appears it was obtained by someone and sent in to the Church.  On some sites there is no citation at all.<br /><ul><li>A: You’ve hit upon the most important issue: sourcing. </li></ul> Any unsourced information – on the Internet or anywhere else – should be considered suspect, because the standard of proof requires being able to reproduce and re-evaluate the research.<br />
  51. 51. Narrowing Searches<br />© 2008 <br />44<br />Q: How can one narrow a search if there is a really common name and you don’t know much? Conversely, if there is an unusual name but you can’t find anything, are there tricks of the trade?<br /><ul><li>A: Try the strategies we’ve mentioned to use date ranges, site-specific searches, inclusion, exclusion, etc. </li></ul> For both common and uncommon names, try alternate spellings. Something like Google only understands characters, not sounds. For my family, I have to look for Grimes as well as Graham, Leake as well as Lake.<br />
  52. 52. Keeping Info<br />© 2008 <br />45<br />Q: How do you keep this info?  <br /> I spent a long time (and lots of printer cartridges) copying things only to discover later it was not the relative in my Family Tree at all. Is there a good Internet organizational tool?<br />A: There are a number of strategies. One thing I do up front is check the following: <br />Is the information sourced?   <br />Does the information really connect to mine?<br />If the information does not pass both tests, I may keep the link at (a link saving and sharing site) for later evaluation.<br /> Another strategy is to use a family tree program, such as TMG, that allows you to store contradictory pieces of information.<br />
  53. 53. Pre-Ellis Island Immigrants<br />© 2008 <br />46<br />How do you find immigration info on the internet for people who came to the US way before Ellis Island if you do not know what ship they came on or what port they came to  (and if they have a very common name)?<br /><ul><li>These are challenging issues. </li></ul> You will need to perform multiple searches. I recommend Steven Morse’s site. It will allow you to search on more fields. You can also switch arrival ports to facilitate searching for the same passenger arriving in different ports. (Some searches require subscriptions.)<br />
  54. 54. Threads<br />Q: I don’t really understand &quot;Threads&quot; and how to use them effectively. <br />© 2008 <br />47<br /><ul><li>A: “Threads” are a method of organizing e-mail, blogs, or other “conversations” into groups based on their subjects. </li></ul>If the subject lines are the same, they are in the same thread. This allows you to skip subjects you are not interested and quickly find and read in more detail subjects in which you are more interested. <br />
  55. 55. Craven County, NC Land Transactions<br />Q: Are there Craven County, NC land transaction records on-line that are deposited in Washington DC?<br />© 2008 <br />48<br /><ul><li>A: I am not familiar with any such land transaction records, though you might try the Freedman’s Bureau (for African-Americans and others). I think the best place for these land records is going to be physical files at the State Archives, UNC Chapel Hill, and Duke University.</li></li></ul><li>Irish & Scottish Records without Locale Info<br />Q: I have an Irish ancestor who was born in Ireland who knows where in 1821. He shows up in Malone NY in 1855 at least, maybe sooner if he is one of the Patrick Sweeneys that are on 1848 passenger lists. Where can I look to track him down further in any way? I have the same thing with ancestors in Scotland, Caverhills and Kissocks, and my only hint is Edinburgh and mid-1800&apos;s<br />© 2008 <br />49<br /><ul><li>A: This kind of information will require locales, down to the parishes. My advice, as painful as it may be to hear, is to overturn every stone on this side of the Atlantic to find out the specifics of the locale on the other.</li></li></ul><li>Other Questions?<br />© 2008 <br />50<br /> After any questions, I suggest you try some of these principles on your favorite sites.<br />
  56. 56. Other Search / Navigation Sites of Note<br />Google Book Search –<br />Google Scholar –<br />Google Patent Search –<br />Linkpendium –<br />Internet Archive (Way Back Machine) –<br />WorldCat –<br />Wikipedia – esp.<br />© 2008 <br />51<br />
  57. 57. “See also” from Wikipedia Article on NC<br />© 2008 <br />52<br />
  58. 58. Jordan Jones<br /><br />These slides, and the handout, are available at: <br /><br />© 2008 <br />53<br />Contact <br />