10 August 2009

Google-A Great Research Tool

I taught a class recently on using Google to search for clues to your family history. Frequently I will hear someone ask “where did you find your information?” I’ll often say that I found the data online or I found clues online. A standard response will be “where or how? I’ve tried searching and can never find anything.”

Well, Google offers a number of tools and tricks that you can use to “find” information that you may not be able to find by just searching for a name or a location. These tools are very powerful and can often save you a great deal of time as you try to build your family tree based on all the clues and sources available.

The Web has become extremely powerful and contains a vast array of data. It’s like having 100’s of different libraries and resources at your fingertips. You may not have to travel internationally to get to a parish to find a vital record, nor even travel down the street to visit your local library. As the slogan says “let your fingers do the walking”! In this case, let your fingers walk your keyboard and gather the info you need.

Let’s take an example and walk through it.

I want to find everything I can on a Herman Bridwell (1881-1943) married to Della Poindexter.

I start with a word search on Google for the surname of Bridwell and get 588,000 hits…way to many to go through.

So I add Herman to the front of Bridwell and get 545,000 hits. This still doesn’t narrow down the search enough.

Put Herman Bridwell in quotes to limit the search to a string of words, or rather an exact search. “herman bridwell”. I get 91 hits which is much easier to search through. I immediately find an obituary that has been posted on a message board for a “Herman C Bridwell” who died in 1943 and was 62 years old. The obituary was posted in Kentucky and he had a son named Henry C Bridwell. I find that he was buried in Shady Grove Cemetery in Kentucky. There is no mention of a spouse, but there are several children and one sister listed as survivors.

The next hit is for an obituary on a message board for a Ruby Melton. The poster had added a comment that according to the “Death Records of Henderson County, Kentucky”, Ruby was the daughter of Herman C. Bridwell and Della M. Poindexter. This matches the spouse name I am looking for.

Now I know that Herman has a middle name that begins with a “C”. So now I alter my Google search to “herman * bridwell”. The asterisk is a function that allows Google to search for any Herman Bridwell that has a middle name. Doing this narrowed the search to ten records.

This search result included a USGenWeb Project page that listed a transcription for the “Webster County Death Records – 1911.” I found a death record for a Beulah Bridwell, born and died in 1911 in Kentucky, and buried in the Shady Grove Cemetery. She is listed as the daughter of Herman C Bridwell and Mamie Owens. So my first question is “Is this the Herman C Bridwell married to Della Poindexter or their son, or, did Herman have another wife?” More potential clues.

Let’s try searching another way. “bridwell, herman c”. By reversing the order I may find lists of people that have been alphabetized. I get six hits. I can’t find any additional data.

So now I want to search for any Bridwell burials in Shady Grove Cemetery. I Google “shady grove cemetery” Kentucky herman bridwell. Notice I put the cemetery name in quotes, listed the state and the names without quotes. I get 119 hits and the second hit is again pointing to the USGenWeb Project. I find a listing for Bridwell, Herman and Della! When I click on the link I get a photo of their headstone in the cemetery. I find that Herman’s middle name is Cornelius, Della’s middle name is May and it gives me the names of both sets of parents. There is also a note that Herman was also married to Mamie Owens. All three of them are in the Shady Grove Cemetery!

This last search is giving me too many hits with either Herman or Bridwell and not necessarily both. So I add a plus sign in front of the words. “shady grove cemetery” +Kentucky +herman +bridwell. The plus sign tells Google to find only matches that contain ALL the words that are preceded by a plus sign. This search gave me a link to a 53 page, sourced, family history on the Bridwell family with contact information for the researcher.

This is just an example of one way to utilize Google to help you search for your ancestors.

I put together a quick reference sheet to help you with the most common commands and tools that are available when using Google.

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