Google Genealogy: Four Steps to Searching United States Ancestry Online

Google GenealogyBy Barry J. Ewell

This article  is designed to get you started with your genealogy and family history research in the United States. Sample Google search queries are suggested for your use to help you research and learn about your ancestors.

Finding resources in the United States
Where do you find genealogy resources on the Internet? It is a seemingly simple question with a complex answer. You will find records in many places such as large databases to very small family related websites and blogs. Records for each generation are going to be different. The records that were created and available on the web for a specific place in 1940 are going to be different than those created for 1880, 1840, or earlier. Remember also, that only a small amount of the total number of records that have ever been created have been digitized and available online; but digitized records are growing at an ever increasing rate. I have researched for records one month without success and found them six months later with the same Google search queries. Why? The records were put online during that six months or I just didn’t find them the first time.

Most research will be organized by state
Within the United States, most of the records you will be searching for will be organized by state, county, and city.

Providing list of websites vs queries to find websites
Over the years, I have provided genealogists with a list of websites to research their ancestry and/or I have provided them with search queries to use to find internet resources they can explore.

Overwhelmingly the best success has come from providing search queries. Why? When search queries were used, the genealogists said their search returns included the websites that were specific to the time period, type of record and/or place they were searching. It was much easier to go from one site to the next to search for the same type of information.

When I just gave them a list of websites, genealogists felt that it was cumbersome because they didn’t know which websites included the information they wanted and/or which websites were related with type of content they were seeking.

Understanding search query organization
As you use a variety of search queries, you will see the following elements routinely used:

  • Use of location. With each search string, I have included the name of the country or related location reference that will help Google have a greater chance of returning country of origin resources. For example, if my country of choice was Netherlands, I would use one or more of the following variations in my search query: “Netherlands” or “Dutch” or “Netherlands OR Dutch”
  • Use of (site:). The “site:” operator will allow you to confine/restrict your search to a specific domain.
  • Use of quotes (” “). The use of quotes around two or more words (e.g., “Australian”) tells Google that you search for these words/phase exactly as they are written and in the same order.
  • Use of OR. I have used OR Boolean operator (e.g., ” database OR index OR records”). Google will search for both options and will return either “database,” “index, “records” or any combination of the three words.
  • Use of genealogy. I have used the word “genealogy” in almost every query. I have found this word to be necessary to get to the records or databases that I can use for genealogy or family history research. Feel free to try and use other description words.

Four steps to searching United States ancestry online
The following search queries are designed to provide search results that will get you off to a good start by finding the information that matters most when researching your ancestral roots. I would encourage you to experiment with the queries by modifying them with what you have learned in earlier chapters. For ease of presentation, I am going to present the search queries as follows

  •  Step 1: General search queries
  • Step 2: Search for records
  • Step 3: Free database search queries
  • Step 4: Subscription database search queries

Step 1: General search queries
These are general search queries that can be used to uncover the more frequently used websites and databases to get you off to a good start in your research. If I were searching for genealogy libraries or archive websites for Albemarle County in the State of Virginia, I would use the following search query:

  • ” Albemarle County” genealogy “library OR archive”

If I were going to expand the search, I would include the state. For example:

  • “Virginia OR Albemarle County” genealogy “library OR archive”

Instructions. Choose the general search you would like to conduct and replace the “Location text goes here” with your state and/or county. Next replace “place text here” with the corresponding query element listed in the chart below.

  • ” Location text goes here ” “place text here”

Notes: 1.) Use variations of the location for different results. A sample variation follows for Albemarle County in the state of Virginia: “Albemarle County” or “Virginia” or “Albemarle County OR Virginia.” I personally like to use the county and state together.

(Searching general term) = (Use query element). If you searching for a general genealogy search term, use the associated query element.

  • Education = genealogy “guide OR tutorial OR how-to”
  • Beginning = “beginning”
  • Catalog = “catalog”
  • Classes or Workshops = “classes OR workshops”
  • Dictionary = “dictionary”
  • Family history = “family history”
  • Forums = “forums”
  • Genealogy websites = “genealogy OR ancestors OR roots”
  • Language = “language”
  • Library and archives = genealogy “library OR archive”
  • Message Board = “message board”
  • Records and databases = genealogy “records OR database”
  • Research links = genealogy “links OR sources”
  • Societies = genealogy OR history “society OR group”
  • Wiki’s = genealogy “wiki”

Step 2: Search for records
This search query is designed to help you find websites and databases that include specific types of records. If I was searching for census records in Brown County in the state of Ohio, I would use the following search query:

  • “Brown County” genealogy “census” “database OR records”

To expand the search, I would include the state. For example:

  • “Brown County OR Ohio” genealogy “census” “database OR records”

Instructions. Replace the “Location text goes here” with your state and/or county. Next choose the record type you would like to search for and replace the “place text here” with the corresponding query element.

  • ” Location text goes here ” genealogy “place text here” “database OR records”

Notes: Use variations of the location for different results. A sample variation follows for Brown County in the state of Ohio: “Brown County” or “Ohio” or “Brown County OR Ohio.” I personally like to use the county and state together.

(Search for record type) = (Use query element. If you searching for a specific record, use the associated query element.

  • Adoption / guardianship = “adoption OR guardianship”
  • Bible = “bible”
  • Biography = “biography”
  • Birth / christening = “birth OR christening”
  • Business = “business”
  • Cemetery = “cemetery”
  • Census = “census”
  • Church = “church OR parish”
  • Civil registration = “civil registration”
  • Court = “court”
  • Culture / history = “culture OR history”
  • Death = “death”
  • Directories = “directories”
  • Divorce = “divorce”
  • Immigrant / settlers = “immigrant OR settlers”
  • Immigration / emigration = “immigration OR emigration”
  • Land / property = “land OR property”
  • Maps = “maps”
  • Marriage = “marriage”
  • Military = “military”
  • Naturalization = “naturalization”
  • Newspapers = “newspaper”
  • Obituary = “obituary”
  • Passport = “passport”
  • Pensions = “pensions”
  • Poor houses / orphanages = “poor houses OR orphanages”
  • Obituary = “obituary”
  • Periodicals = “periodicals”
  • Royal / nobility = “royal OR nobility”
  • Probate / will = “probate or will”
  • School = “school”
  • Ship passenger lists = “passenger”
  • Tax = “tax”
  • Vital = “vital”
  • Voting = “voting”

Step 3: Free database search queries
There are large websites/databases that include thousands of free records and resources related to almost every research topic. In order to have Google search only a specific website, you will be using the (site:<URL>) operator. If I were looking for death records in Camden County in the state of Georgia, in the website FamilySearch.org, my search string would be as follows:

  • site:familysearch.org “Camden County” genealogy “death” “database OR records”

To expand the search, I would include the state. For example:

  • ” site:familysearch.org “Camden County OR Georgia” genealogy “death” “database OR records”

Instructions. Do the following three things, 1) Choose the web property you would like to search for and replace the (site:<URL>). 2) Next, replace the “Location text goes here” with your state and/or county. 3) Choose a search string from Step 1 or Step 2 or of your choice.

  • site:<URL> “Location goes here” (Search string from part 1 and part 2)

Notes: 1.) Use variations of the location for different results. A sample variation follows for Camden County in the state of Georgia: “Camden County” or “Georgia” or “Camden County OR Georgia.” I personally like to use the county and state together. 2) I prefer to use the (site:) operator at the beginning of the search query. 3.) You can use the (site:) operator with any URL you want to search. 4.) Many genealogy/family history organizations will use .org non-profit websites to host their information.

(Searching website) = (Use query element). If you searching for a free database website, use the associated query element.

  • FamilySearch = site:familysearch.org
  • USGenWeb = site:usgenweb.org
  • RootsWeb = site:rootsweb.ancestry.com
  • .org (Non-profit websites) = site:org

Step 4: Subscription database search queries
There are a variety of subscription websites/databases that include many records and resources. You can either use the websites’ search engine or have Google locate the resources of the specific website. You will be using the (site:<URL>) operator. If I were looking for birth records in Dallas County in the state of Texas, in the website Ancestry.com, my search string would be as follows:

  • site:ancestry.com “Dallas County” genealogy “birth” “database OR records”

If I were going to expand the search, I would include the state. For example:

  • ” site: ancestry.com “Dallas County OR Texas” genealogy “birth” “database OR records”

Instructions. Do the following three things, 1) Choose the web property you would like to search for and replace the (site:<URL>). 2) Next, replace the “Location text goes here” with your state and/or county. 3) Choose a search string from Step 1 or Step 2 or of your choice.

  • site:<URL> “Location goes here” (Search string from part 1 and part 2)

Notes: 1.) Use variations of the location for different results. A sample variation follows for Camden County in the state of Georgia: “Camden County” or “Georgia” or “Camden County OR Georgia.” I personally like to use the county and state together. 2) I prefer to use the (site:) operator at the beginning of the search query. 3.) You can use the (site:) operator with any URL you want to search.

(Searching website) = (Use query element). If you searching for a subscription database website, use the associated query element.

  • Ancestry = site:ancestry.com
  • MyHeritage = site:myheritage.com
  • FindMyPast = site:findmypast.com