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Genealogy: Advanced Google Search Special Features

The following article is a sample from Barry J. Ewell's book "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering your Family History." He is the founder, an online educational website for genealogy and family history.

Within the advanced search option in genealogy websites, you will be presented with unique features that will help provide greater control in your search. The following are some of the options you might see:

+/- Years. This feature allows you to control the time frame in years to search for an ancestor. For example, you have entered "John Jones" and you know that he died approximately in 1861. You can enter 1861 and then check the +/-years box in increments of 1, 2, 5, or 10 year spreads (the exact increments will vary between sites). If you choose 10 years, the search engine would look for "John Jones" from 1851 to 1871.

Exact Matches Only. You will usually find this feature as a check box. By checking this box, you will only be presented with results that match your criteria exactly.

Location. Some website search engines allow you to narrow your search within location options such as in FamilySearch .org. The location option allows you to focus on a region and narrow in depending upon your knowledge. For example, start with the geographical region, narrow to country, and narrow to state, county, and city.

Soundex Search. It is rare to find a surname spelled the same way as we go back in historical records. Soundex becomes a good tool to search for names that sound like the one you are seeking. For example, by entering Smith and using the soundex option, you would receive results that included Smithe, Smyth, and Smythe.

Wildcard search using the asterisk and the question mark. Many website search engines have incorporated the use of the asterisk (*) and the question mark (?) for queries. These wildcards are effective when you are searching for names with alternate spellings.

Asterisk (*). Usually represents 0 to 6 characters. For example, john* could return "John," "Johnson," "Johnsen," "Johnathon," or "Johns."

Anytime you use the asterisk, you must have at least three letters as part of your query. For example: Correct: Joh* Incorrect: Jo*

Searches on are different; this site considers an asterisk (*) to be a wildcard character, so cem- eter* yields cemetery and cemeteries.

For genealogy searches, the asterisk (*) is one way to search for a name that has a middle name or initial. An example of one query using the asterisk is Ora * Jones. This search sting returns pages containing Ora Jones separated by one or more words: Ora W. Jones Ora W Jones Ora William Jones Ora; Murphy, Jones Ora Lee Jones Ora G. Jones

It will not return results for Ora Jones with no middle name or initial.

To search for web pages containing his name with a middle name or initial and his name with no middle name or initial, use this query: "Ora * Jones" OR "Ora Jones"

Question mark (?). Represents looking for alternate spellings where one letter may make the difference. For example, a search for sm?th could return "Smith," "Smyth,", "Smoth," and "Smath."

Your query cannot start with a question mark. For example:

Correct: Sm?th Incorrect: ?Smith

Read more great genealogy tips in Barry Ewell's book "Family Treasures: 15 Lessons, Tips, and Tricks for Discovering your Family History.

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