Admit it. You return again and again to the popular genealogy Web sites – FamilySearch, USGenWeb, RootsWeb and others – looking for clues about your ancestors. If you’re repeating the same searches but not finding much, it’s time to give your technique an overhaul.
We’ve taken a fresh look at seven familiar sites, examined their search options, and even figured out how to use Google <google.com> to probe them more efficiently. So get out of that rut – and finally find your ancestors – with these “hacks” for effectively mining the Internet’s most-frequented family history stops.
Thanks to volunteer efforts, USGenWeb has grown into an immense free source of transcribed records from around the country. The state pages are jumping-off points to county pages, where you’ll find tombstone transcriptions, church records, indexes to wills and much more. Here’s how to scour USGenWeb for your family:
Query the countywide search engines. Many county pages have their own search engines — be sure to read any tips. Some engines, such as FreeFind <wwww.freefind.com> support advanced search functions. For example, you can find an exact phrase by surrounding it with quotes. Use an asterisk to find words that begin the same way (charl* finds Charles, Charlie or Charley), or substitute a question mark for any character (ols?n finds Olson and Olsen). You even can use Boolean operators: (carr OR hall) AND “south bristol” would find pages that include South Bristol and either Carr or Hall. When searching for a name, try all the ways it might appear, such as “henry hall,” “hall henry” and “henry j. hall.”
Use your browser to scour a Web page. Your browser can locate a word anywhere on the displayed Web page. In Internet Explorer, select Edit >Find (shortcut: Control+F). Then type in a word or phrase and click the Find Next button.
Search the USGenWeb Archives for record transcriptions. From <rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/newsearch.htm>, you can comb one state or county’s archives for a name or keyword; click Advanced Search to query on an exact phrase. Once again, however, trusty Google does a better job: Limit your Google search to the domain ftp.rootsweb.com and search on a name or name-and-place combo such as:
1. site:ftp.rootsweb.com “jonathan hall” “new york”
2. site:ftp.rootsweb.com “hall jonathan” “new york.”
Whether you’ve searched these online genealogy standbys a few times or a zillion, don’t assume you’ve tapped all there is to find. Try a new search tactic, and you might be amazed by what turns up.