Narrowing the Search Area in Search Engines

Shortly after connecting to the Internet, I discovered search engines. It was exciting to type a few words in a box and presto! find related information. It took me months to learn how to use them properly.

Sometimes I quickly found what I looked for; many times, it took hours to locate information to furthered my genealogy research. That was a dozen years ago when search engines were relatively young and their searching abilities limited. Now search engines can perform wonders if you know how to use them.

First, pick your search engine. I suggest starting with the best, Google , then working your way through Yahoo , Lycos Canada and Bing .

When I start searching, I throw a big net, searching with a person’s name, place name or event. This is great when looking for someone with an unusual name such as Primadine even if her last name is Taylor. If there are hundreds of results, check the first ten to see if anything is interesting, then narrow the search using additional key words.

Still, you may find too many results. For example, searching ‘John William Taylor’ produces 86,200,000. To reduce this number, use quotation marks. For example, “John William Taylor” produces only 307 results.

Searches using quotation marks find words appearing together and in that order on a particular web page. For example, the order of “Taylor, John William” generates 413 pages. Many times, names are listed by surname first in cemetery inscriptions and surname lists, so try the name using both formats.

A combination of key words with and without quotation marks will narrow the search further. For example, “lost at sea” Tibert will produce web pages containing ‘Tibert’ and with the word group ‘lost at sea’.

Most search engines are not sensitive to capital letters, so the same results are produced with Canada, canada and CANADA. The exception is Boolean Logic. Words such as AND, AND NOT and sometimes OR are used to refine a search.

For example, when researching common names that appear throughout Canada and the United States, limit the results by using key words such as ‘Toole AND New Brunswick’.

Not all Boolean Logic words work with all search engines. Google assumes AND is between words, and does not recognize AND NOT. Instead, use a hyphen (-) to eliminate specific words or terms. For example, ‘Taylor Newfoundland -sport’ will find web pages containing Taylor and Newfoundland and exclude those containing the word sport.

Yahoo accepts AND, OR, NOT and AND NOT. They must be capitalized to work.

Using search engines can be challenging, so keep an open mind and try various search methods and engines. If it’s on the Internet, you’re bound to find it…eventually.


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