Setting-up advanced Google searches for genealogy research

Google Advanced SearchBy Barry J. Ewell

In addition to the database resources like Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast.com, and FamilySearch.org, I will seek to find other information on each ancestor on the Internet.  I liken the search to child’s game hide-n-seek.  I am trying to uncover location of information regarding my ancestor be it in a list, book, blog, website, newspaper or other artifact. Sometimes I am fortunate and with simple search query using my ancestors name I am able find the desired information.

It has been my experience, however, that I need to construct search queries that will help me look in as many places at one time.  I will usually start out with a simple search query that includes the name of my ancestor and then depending on what I find I will add other variables such as

  • Ancestor name and variations
  • Spouse’s name and variations
  • Parent’s names and variations
  • Children’s names and variations
  • Siblings names and variations
  • Locations lived through life
  • Birth and death locations
  • Genealogy search words

Search queries can be as short or as long as needed.  I wish I could construct a search query format that would cover all my ancestor search needs and variations.  The following queries are some of the more advanced queries that I have used and hope they will help expand your options for searching and finding information on your ancestors.

For any Google search, focus on one person at a time.  Write down the information you know about your ancestor.  Throughout this section, I will be using the name of my grandfather “Ora Jones” as the primary ancestor and included the following information:

Ancestor: Ora JonesAncestor’s Father: John Jones
Ancestor’s Mother: Mary Johnson
Ancestor’s Spouse: Vera Dearing
Ancestor’s Place of birth: Atlanta, Georgia
Ancestor’s Place of death: Denver, Colorado

Note:  If you don’t know the names of your ancestor’s parents, but you have the name of children, replace your primary ancestors name with the name of the child and their related information (e.g., spouse, place of birth and death) and move the primary ancestor information to the parent.

Ancestor: Richard JonesAncestor’s Father: Ora Jones
Ancestor’s Mother: Vera Dearing
Ancestor’s Spouse: Joanna Wittels
Ancestor’s Place of birth: St. Louis, Missouri
Ancestor’s Place of death: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Before I start sharing advanced search queries, I would like provide important background information that will help you understand why I constructed the each query as I did.

Name variations.  I have found my grandfather’s name written in multiple ways.  In order to account for the variations, I have used a Google query to search for that name variation.

First NameLast NameGoogle Search Query
OraJones“Ora Jones”
First NameMiddle NameLast NameGoogle Search Query
OraWilliamJones“Ora * Jones”
OraW.Jones
OraWJones
OraWmJones
Last NameFirst NameGoogle Search Query
Jones,Ora“Jones, Ora”

Use of quotes(“ “). The use of quotes around two or more words (e.g., “Ora Jones”) tells Google that you search for these words/phase exactly as they are written and in the same order.

Use of asterisk (*). The asterisk symbol is a wildcard. This is useful if you’re trying to find name variations, middle names, etc.  When I use the asterisk in this format “Ora * Jones” Google will returns pages containing Ora Jones separated by one or more words (e.g., Ora W. Jones, Ora William Jones).

Search term modifiers.  When I have been searching for a common name (e.g., John Smith), it  is common to get too many returns on that name.  I will choose to add other search terms to the query such as relationships (e.g., spouse, parents), location (e.g., birth and death place) and genealogy key words (e.g., cemetery, ancestry, genealogy, marriage).  These modifiers act as a filter and increase the probability of finding the right ancestor and make the Google returns more manageable.  The variations I will use in following examples are as follows:

Genealogy Key wordsGoogle Search Query
Genealogygenealogy
Ancestryancestry

Genealogy key words. I will use genealogical terms to a Google search string and search repeatedly with different emphasis. I used the words genealogy and ancestry to primarily focus the Google on genealogy websites. When I use the terms Google will also search for related words/synonym.  For example:

  • genealogy (family tree, genealogy, genealogists, surname, vital records)
  • ancestry (ancestry, ancestors, genealogy, history, surname, family tree)
Place of BirthPlace of DeathGoogle Search Query
GeorgiaGeorgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
ColoradoColorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Location. When I introduce location, I will start with the largest geographic area which is in this case the USA place of birth state (i.e., Georgia) and the USA place of death state (Colorado).  Rarely will I need to include the city. Notice in Google search query I have represented the state spelled out and in its postal format.

  • Use of OR. I have used OR Boolean operator between state variations (e.g., Georgia OR +GA OR +Ga.).  Google will search for all three options and will return either “georgia” or “GA” or “Ga.” or any combination of the three.
  • Use of (” “). You can use quotations around words that you want to appear in your search results with no variation of the word. Entering “GA” for USA state Georgia returns GA with no variations.
  • Variation of state reference.  Throughout the history of the USA postal service, different abbreviations have been used to represent states.  Remember when you are doing a Google search you will be looking for information that has been recorded during different time periods.  You will want to account for possible variations in your search query. For example, the postal abbreviations over time for Colorado are as follows:  1874 Colo., 1963 CO.  Note above I have used the search string “Colorado OR +CO OR Colo.”  For the postal code variations of other states see blog “Genealogy by Barry” and search for the article “Using US postal code abbreviations in Google search queries.”
Ancestor’s SpouseGoogle Search Query Variations
Vera Dearing“Vera Dearing”
“Vera * Dearing”
“Dearing, Vera”
Vera -Dearing
Ancestor’s FatherGoogle Search Query Variations
John Jones“John Jones”
“John * Jones”
“jones, john”
john –jones
Ancestor’s FatherGoogle Search Query Variations
Mary Johnson“mary johnson”
“mary * Johnson”
“Johnson, mary”
mary -johnson

Family relations.  When I am searching for an ancestor, I have found that when I include the name of the spouse and/or parent is great way to increase Google’s chance in finding the right persons.  Even when I am looking for a female ancestor, I will usually begin with the male ancestor as the lead because there is a good chance that maiden name is missing.  The name variations will be used in search queries that follow.

  • Use of quotes(“ “). The use of quotes around two or more words (e.g., “Ora Jones”) tells Google that you search for these words/phase exactly as they are written and in the same order.
  • Use of asterisk (*). The asterisk symbol is a wildcard. This is useful if you’re trying to find name variations, middle names, etc.  When I use the asterisk in this format “Ora * Jones” Google will returns pages containing Ora Jones separated by one or more words (e.g., Ora W. Jones, Ora William Jones).
  • Use of minus (-). The use of minus (-) symbol before a word tell Google that  you do not what the word to be returned in the search results.

Search for Ora Jones with spouse’s name and genealogy word
I have found that searching the primary ancestor with a spouses name is first place I will start in my Google search.  In this example, I used the words genealogy and ancestry to primarily focus the Google search on genealogy websites. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones.  The change for each search is name format for the spouse Vera Dearing.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Vera Dearing”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 2:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Vera * Dearing”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 3:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Dearing, Vera”  genealogy OR ancestry

Search for Ora Jones with spouse’s name and locations
In this example I am going to introduce using location.  A good starting point when you introduce location is the place of birth and place of death since these life events that tend generate the most records.  It’s also ok to try other locations where your ancestor lived. When I introduce location, I will start with the largest geographic area which is in this case the USA place of birth state (i.e., Georgia) and the USA place of death state (Colorado).  Rarely will I need to include the city. Notice in Google search query I have represented the state spelled out and in its postal format.

  • Use of OR. I have used OR Boolean operator between state variations (e.g., georgia OR +GA).  Google will search for both options and will return either “georgia” or GA or both.
  • Use of (” “). You can use quotations around words that you want to appear in your search results with no variation of the word. Entering “GA” for USA state Georgia returns GA with no variations.

Primary ancestor with spouse’s name and birth location. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones and the place of birth. The change for each search is name format for the spouse Vera Dearing. I have also added the birth location for Ora Jones.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Vera Dearing” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Vera * Dearing” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Dearing, Vera” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”

Primary ancestor with spouse’s name and death location. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones and the place of death. The change for each search is name format for the spouse Vera Dearing. I have also added the death location for Ora Jones.

  • Search 1:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Vera Dearing” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 2:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Vera * Dearing” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 3:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Dearing, Vera” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Search for Ora Jones with spouse’s first name (only). Searching the primary ancestor with a spouses name is first place I will start in my Google search. I always need to account for situations where the last name of the spouse may not be known.  In this example I have used the search term (Vera –Dearing).   This query will tell Google to return Vera with by itself or with any other last name other than Dearing where it is associated with name variations of Ora Jones.  I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones and single format for Vera.  The main change in the queries in my use of the genealogy key words genealogy and ancestry, birth location and death location.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” Vera -Dearing  ~genealogy OR ~ancestry
  • Search 2:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” Vera -Dearing Georgia OR +GA OR Ga.
  • Search 3:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” Vera -Dearing Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Search for Ora Jones’s parents using first and last names
Once I have conducted search for my primary ancestor using variations of the spouse’s names, I will try doing a search on the first and last names of his parents.  This type of search has been effective in helping me find websites that have included the parents and siblings but not name of my ancestor.  The further back you go in your family line, it is common that someone who belongs to your line may not have found the name of your ancestor.  This just helps me locate and expand on my available resources to help build out the family profile.

Parents first and last names.  In this example, if have used the search queries with variations of the of the parents’ names.  . For each query I have kept the three name formats for John Jones, the father of Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the Mary Johnson, the mother of Ora Jones. , I used the words genealogy and ancestry to primarily focus the Google search on genealogy websites.

  • Search 1:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Mary Johnson”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 2:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Mary * Johnson”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 3:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Johnson, Mary”  genealogy OR ancestry

Parents first and last names with birth location.  For this series of search queries, I will continue to search with variations of the of the parents’ names, but add the birth place of the primary ancestor Ora Jones, Georgia. Again you can use any location you have if known.  I chose to start with this location because there is good chance other records may exist for the family.   For each query I have kept the three name formats for John Jones, the father of Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the Mary Johnson, the mother of Ora Jones.

  • Search 1:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Mary Johnson” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 2:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Mary * Johnson” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 3:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Johnson, Mary” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”

Parents first and last names with death location.  I will continue to search with variations of the of the parents’ names, but add the death place of the primary ancestor Ora Jones, Colorado. If you know other locations where the family lived, give them a try.  I chose to stay with this location because there is good chance other records may exist for the family.   For each query I have kept the three name formats for John Jones, the father of Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the Mary Johnson, the mother of Ora Jones.

  • Search 1:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Mary Johnson” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 2:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Mary * Johnson” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 3:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” “Johnson, Mary” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Father’s first and last name with mother’s first name (only). In the previous two examples, we have used the first and last names of the parents of Ora Jones. I always need to account for situations where the last name of the female may not be known.  In this example I have used the search term (Mary –Johnson).   This query will tell Google to return Mary with by itself or with any other last name other than Johnson where it is associated with name variations of John Jones.  I have kept the three name formats for John Jones and single format for Mary.  The main change in the queries in my use of the genealogy key words genealogy and ancestry, birth location and death location.

  • Search 1:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” Mary -Johnson  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 2:  “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” Mary -Johnson Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 3: “John Jones” OR “John * Jones” OR “Jones, John” Mary -Johnson Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Search for Ora Jones’s with father’s names
The further back you go in searching your ancestry beginning with the early 1900’s, the less likely you are to find the maiden names of your ancestors.  The following search queries are designed to search for only male members of a generation.

Primary ancestor with father using first and last names. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the John Jones, the father of Ora Jones.  I used the words genealogy and ancestry to primarily focus the Google search on genealogy websites.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “John Jones”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “John * Jones”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Jones, John”  genealogy OR ancestry

Primary ancestor with father using first and last names and birth location. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the John Jones, the father of Ora Jones.  I have also added the birth location for Ora Jones.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “John Jones” Georgia OR +GA OR Ga.
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “John * Jones” Georgia OR +GA OR Ga.
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Jones, John” Georgia OR +GA OR Ga.

Primary ancestor with father using first and last names and death location. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the John Jones, the father of Ora Jones.  I have also added the death location for Ora Jones.

  • Search 1:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “John Jones” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 2:  “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “John * Jones” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Jones, John” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Search for Ora Jones’s with mother’s names
On a few occasions when I have not been able to find members of generation using the previous search queries, I will try using the primary source with variations of the mother’s name (female name).  Remember the further back you go, the less likely you will find a female name recorded.  That said, it is always worth trying this search just to see if by chance your ancestor is recorded with the mother name.

Primary ancestor with mother using first and last names. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the Mary Johnson, the mother of Ora Jones.  I used the words genealogy and ancestry to primarily focus the Google search on genealogy websites.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Mary Johnson”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Mary * Johnson”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Johnson, Mary”  genealogy OR ancestry

Primary ancestor with mother using first and last names and birth location. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the Mary Johnson, the mother of Ora Jones.  I have also added the birth location for Ora Jones.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Mary Johnson” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Mary * Johnson” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Johnson, Mary” Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”

Primary ancestor with mother using first and last names and death location. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones. The change for each search is name format for the Mary Johnson, the mother of Ora Jones.  I have also added the death location for Ora Jones.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Mary Johnson” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Mary * Johnson” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” “Johnson, Mary” Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Primary ancestor with mother’s first name (only). I always need to account for situations where the last name of the mother may not.  For example, I have found many times where another researcher has found the first name of mother with a child but have yet to find her last name.  Remember you are trying finding information about your family and/or finding other researchers with whom you can collaborate on your family research. In this example I have used the search term (Mary –Johnson).   This query will tell Google to return Mary with by itself or with any other last name other than Johnson where it is associated with name variations of Ora Jones.  I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones and single format for Mary.  The main change in the queries in my use of the genealogy key words genealogy and ancestry, birth location and death location.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” Mary -Johnson  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” Mary -Johnson Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora” Mary -Johnson Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Search for Ora Jones’s and no other names
In the previous searches, I have focused on associating family relationships in the search query such as spouse and parents.  This search query is focused on searching only the primary ancestor in my search which in this instance is Ora Jones.  Keep in mind that if your family names are common such as “John Smith,” you will most likely find a very unmanageable return on your Google search results.  If this is the case, you will want to try the previous searches. If you don’t have relatives to associate with the primary ancestor, then you may need to get more granular in the location by adding a city to state/province.  Also look at adding other genealogy key words as modifiers (e.g., birth, death, cemetery, list, family history, genealogy, ancestry). When you use the words without quotation marks around them, Google will  for the specific word, word’s synonyms, and term with alternative ending.

Primary ancestor with mother using first and last names. For each query I have kept the three name formats for Ora Jones. The main change in the queries in my use of the genealogy key words genealogy and ancestry, birth location and death location.

  • Search 1: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora”  genealogy OR ancestry
  • Search 2: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora”  genealogy OR ancestry Georgia OR “GA” OR “Ga.”.
  • Search 3: “Ora Jones” OR “Ora * Jones” OR “Jones, Ora”  genealogy OR ancestry Colorado OR “CO” OR “Colo.”

Search for Jones Websites.
The following search queries will focus on looking for websites with Jones in the title of the website. In the case of using the term Jones, I will most likely find hundreds of websites with Jones in the title. The more unique the name the more manageable the Google return.

When I focus on the title using the genealogy key words genealogy and ancestry, I more likely to find websites devoted to the name of Jones.   The “allintitle:” will restrict the results to all the query words in the title.  This query below will return titles have titles that will include for example “Jones” and “genealogy” or any variations of the key words genealogy/ancestry.

  • Search: allintitle: Jones genealogy OR ancestry

The second search will focus on finding the name Jones anywhere in the website.  The more unique the surname the better chance this search query will provide results you will want to view and evaluate. If you try this search and you find your search results overwhelming, I would try one of the other search queries that we have discussed above.

  • Search: Jones genealogy OR ancestry