Google for Genealogy: Finding Ancestral Inventions With Patent Search

By Diane Haddad

Our upcoming Google for Genealogy Family Tree University online course shows you how to use Google search tricks and free resources to research your family history. For example, have you searched for your surnames in Google Patents?

This search engine indexes patents and patent applications from the United States Patent and Trademark Office back to 1790, and the European Patent Office and World Intellectual Property Organization back to 1978.

You might not think there’s an inventor in your family tree, but people applied for patents on all kinds of innovations, from an alarm clock that hangs above the sleeper and falls on his face if he doesn’t wake up (Patent No. 256,265, April 11, 1882) to a screen attachment for ladies’ bicycles to hide their feet and ankles from view (Patent No. 557,488, March 31, 1896).

My first cousin five times removed Ben Teipel of Covington, Ky., was a wingshooter (I apologize if this isn’t the right term for a practitioner of the sport of wingshooting) and an employee of the Ligowsky Clay Pigeon Co. Newspapers reported on his performance in competitions, and one (when he was committed to an asylum shortly before his death) called him the “ex-champion wing shot of the world.”

Ben patented a few devices for use with clay target pigeons. This is an illustration of his Target Trap, Patent No. 329,974, issued Nov. 10, 1885:

A much more recent relative’s name is on the patent application for this Positioning Assembly for Valve Closure Members:

My dad, a mechanical engineer, is named as the inventor on the patent, issued Nov. 25, 1975.

You can keyword-search the patents’ text (indexed by optical character recognition software) the same way you’d do any Google search. The Advanced Patent Search makes it easy to add the patent number, filing or issue date (with a range) and/or other search terms. I entered my family surnames in the Inventor field, and to narrow results, I added a place in the “With all of the words” box.

The Google for Genealogy online course runs Monday, June 29, to Monday, July 24, and covers Search, Books, Translate, Google+, Drive and more. See a course program at Family Tree University.