Online Genealogy Class
Instructor: Kathy Wedyke
Using A Search Engine
Search engines are very powerful tools for searching the Internet for information using keywords and phrases. Electronic scouts, known as "robots" or "spiders" explore Web sites and "index" each word within their pages. This information is then compiled into a searchable database. When you enter a query into a search engine, it matches your query words against the records it has in its database to present a listing of possible documents meeting your request.
The key advantage to using a search engine to find your surnames is the size of their index, which typically have information on millions and millions of Web pages. This size does have its drawbacks, however. Due to the sheer number of results possible with a search engine, there is often no way (outside of visiting each one yourself) to determine the quality of the links or their relevancy to your search topic. This can often leave you more frustrated than when you began.
Search Engine Math
One of the best ways to focus your search is to use what many call Search Engine Math. Two simple operators, add (+), subtract (-), can go a long way toward narrowing your search results. These operators are supported by the majority of the major search engines and directories and are a lot easier to learn and remember for most users than the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT.
Using the + Symbol
Beginning each keyword with a plus (+) symbol helps you to tell the search engine to find pages that include all of the words that you enter, not just some of them. For example, consider a search where you are looking for the surname SMITH. Typing that name into AltaVista brings up 3,002,420 pages which match your search request! But assume that what you are really looking for is information on a man named Jebediah Smith. You would want to look for pages which contain both names. Typing in your search request this way:
would bring the number of results down to a much more manageable 635 pages. Now the majority of these pages probably have nothing to do with genealogy, but we will get to that in a moment.
Using the - Symbol
The minus (-) symbol allows you to search for pages that have one word on them but not another word. This is especially useful in the case of surnames which have a dual meaning. For example, imagine you want information about the surname RICE, but don't want to be overwhelmed by pages relating to cooking and food. You could search this way:
rice -food -cook
When you enter the term rice into AltaVista, 983,420 pages are found which match your request. If you exclude the words food and cook, as in the above example, the number of returned pages drops to 787,800. That is still a lot of pages, but it's almost 200,000 less than it was when you started!
This minus (-) technique also comes in handy when you want to
exclude information about celebrities (sports heroes, movie stars,
etc) who share your surname from your results.