Google Genealogy: Proximity Operators

Google Genealogy
By Barry J. Ewell

Proximity operators search for words or phrases that occur near one another. In this section, I will introduce AROUND and NEAR operators. Each operator is supported by different search engines as follows:

  • AROUND is supported by Google
  • NEAR is supported by Bing, Yahoo, and AltaVista

AROUND(n) operator
The AROUND(n) is an undocumented Google operator that will help you find documents/records where the distance between the terms is around ‘n’. The (n) represents the number of words. The higher the number the less in proximity between the two words. The Google search query can be written as follows:

  • AROUND(#) (Text)
  • (Text) AROUND(#) (Text)
  • “(Text) (Text)” AROUND(#) (Text)

In genealogy, many of our search queries are names and dates. For example, if your search query were “Albert Willams” 1863, Google would search for both terms. The terms could be found next to each other, in the same document, in the same website, and/or different websites making a lot of work for you to sort and review to see if your search results were related to your ancestor.
There is a way to require Google to search for the terms near each other. This is done when you enter the term AROUND(2) into your search query. For example , if my search query were

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(5) 1863

Google would search for pages where the exact name of Albert Williams appears within 5 words of the date 1863. You can choose whatever number you want to put in the parentheses, for example (5), (10), (25). I have found that using a lower number decreases the search results but increases the chances of finding a match. The following is an example of how I would start a search.

  • Search 1: “Albert Williams” AROUND(10) 1863
  • Search 2: “Albert Williams” AROUND(5) 1863
  • Search 3: “Albert Williams” AROUND(1) 1863

In the first search I used (10). I am telling Google I want to have it search for Albert Williams and within 10 words find the date 1863. The keyword is “within” which means 1863 could be within 1 word, 5 words, or 10 words from the name Albert Williams. If you are finding too many results, lower the number and conduct the search over.
The following are some other examples of how you can use the search term AROUND in your queries. Let’s start with some basic family information.

Ancestor: Albert Williams

  • Ancestor’s father: Thomas Williams
  • Ancestor’s mother: Anne Grey
  • Ancestor’s spouse: Shauna Allred
  • Ancestor’s place of birth place: Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Ancestor’s place of death date and place: 1896 Baltimore, Maryland

Ancestor and spouse’s first and last name:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(5) “Shauna Allred”

Ancestor and spouse’s last name:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(7) Allred

Ancestor and spouse’s first name:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(10) Shauna

Ancestor and father’s first and last name:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(3) “Thomas Williams”

Ancestor and mother’s first and last name:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(7) “Anne Grey”

Ancestor and variations of birth location:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(10) “North Carolina” OR “N.C.” OR “NC”

Ancestor and variations death location:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(5) Maryland OR “MD” OR “Md.”

Ancestor, death date and death location:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(10) 1896 AROUND(5) Maryland OR “MD” OR “Md.”

Ancestor, father’s first and last name, and birth place:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(10) “Thomas Williams” AROUND(5) Maryland OR “MD” OR “Md.”

Ancestor and variations of father’s first name:

  • “Albert Williams” AROUND(10) Thomas OR “Thom.” OR “Tom”

Ancestor name variations and death year

  • “Albert Williams” OR “Albert * Williams” OR “Williams, Albert” AROUND(7) 1896

NEAR operator
The NEAR operator allows you to search for terms situated with a specified distance of each other in any order. NEAR can be used by itself or without a distance parameter. When NEAR is used by itself, Google will usually look for the words within 1 to 20 words. The closer the terms are to one another, the higher the page appears in the results list.

The Google search query can be written as follows:

  • NEAR (Text)
  • (Text) NEAR (Text)
  • “(Text) (Text)” NEAR (Text)

Examples of search queries follow:

  • Search: “Spanish Fork” NEAR Utah
  • Search: “John Jones” NEAR “Connecticut”

If you desire to define the distance in which you would like Google to search for the terms using the NEAR operator, write NEAR/#. For example:

  • Search: “John Jones” NEAR/5 Georgia OR “GA” will search for John Jones within 5 words of the word Georgia
  • Search: “John Jones” NEAR/3 Janice will search for John Jones within 3 words of the female name Janice

Defining the distance perimeters
With the proximity operators you are given the opportunity to define the distances you would like Google to search for the two words from one another. As a rule of thumb, I use the following numbers:

  • 0: to find key words next to each other.
  • Between 1-5: to find keywords in the same phrase
  • 6-15: to find key words in the same sentence
  • 30, 40, 50: to find keywords in the same paragraph

Note: Is using the 0 with the proximity operator the same as putting the same two words in parentheses? No. here is the difference:

  • “john jones” (Will return John Jones exactly as it is listed)
  • John AROUND(0) Jones (Returns John Jones or Jones John. Jones can either directly precede or follow John.)