The other day I was flipping through TV channels when I stumbled upon the reality TV show “Gold Rush Alaska.” As I got lured into watching a couple of episodes (they were running a marathon that day), it all looked very familiar:
Huge excavators were pulling up great bucketfuls of material from the ground. The huge volume of earth would then tumble its way down sifting machines, eventually run across a wave table. The ultimate goal was to sift out the gold nuggets.
Then it hit me: That’s what we do with Google!
Yes, more than once after doing a simple search I have felt like a huge bucket full of earth had been dropped on me. I would stare at the hundreds of thousands of results and wonder, “How am I ever going to sift through all this to find my genealogy gems?” (This concept goes right back to the early days when I began the Genealogy Gems Podcast in 2007. My first gem was on Google, and I have frequently featured the search powerhouse on the show ever since.)
On the show, newbie miners were struggling to figure out which specialized tools they needed to sift immense quantities of dirt and rocks down to the type of material that carries the gold — the fine black dirt. Then they had to use another set of unique tools to sift the fine black dirt in hopes of finding gold nuggets.
So what are the right tools for the job of sifting through the seemingly endless material on the Internet? And how do we get that unwanted material out of the way so we can get down to the good stuff where our genealogy gems may be hidden?
In the first installment of this Tech Tips Blog Series I shared with you one of my favorite “sifters” –- the dot dot dot (…) technique. But that is just one of a cache of search sifting tools — known in the search world as operators — available to family history researchers. Let me share a few more favorites from my new book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (Genealogy Gems Publications)
Understand the underlying concept: Search is art, not a science!
While search operators behave scientifically and logically, we must construct our search queries artfully. Sometimes it’s what you add in, and sometimes it’s what you leave out, that determines the quality of your results.
Exact phrase sifter
When you want to find an exact phrase in a website, enclose the phrase in quotation marks. For example, “U.S. federal census” will bring up websites with that exact phrase and eliminate all other variations.
Words apart search
While quotation marks can help you zero in, in some cases they may actually prevent the ideal results. (There’s that “art” thing again.)
We have to keep in mind that sometimes the words that we are looking for won’t appear next to each other even though they normally do. For example, you may be looking for a city directory, and normally you would expect to see the two words together as a phrase: city directory. But by using an asterisk to set them apart, you may find the perfect result that searching for them together may have missed.
city * directory
Results could include:
city phone directory
city telephone directory
city and county directory
For this little gem, watch my video from the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel.
I hope these gems bring you a family history strike! Good luck!