Internet Search Tips
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Tips for improving your search experience on the Internet:
- Start your search broad and narrow it down when necessary. Too much detail may cause you to miss something useful. For example, when visiting FamilySearch.org, we can enter first name, last name, birth year, birth place, spouse’s name, father’s full name, and mother’s full name. Enter just the first and last name unless the name is fairly common (you probably shouldn’t search for just Thomas Walker, William Jones, or Mary Taylor, but add some place or time period when searching for common names). If the surname is unusual, enter surname only for your search. To start, leave the place blank—you never know when family members might be found in an unexpected part of the world. If you get too many hits, then add some detail to a refined search—but only as much detail as necessary to reduce the search results to a manageable level. Even when you know there will be too many results, try the general search first because the items that show up on the first page of hits could be something you might otherwise miss.
- Be aware of what is being searched. You may want to search at a higher or lower level (e.g., IGI extracted only vs. “all resources”). Usually, restricting your search to one single database gives you more or different search options. It may also effectively narrow your search down to something more manageable.
- Check out search help—it often actually helps. This may be hidden in a link to “advanced search.” There may be options that look appealing but which you shouldn’t use—like exact spelling in FamilySearch.
- Find out what options you have in searching. You may be able to use partial, truncated, or wildcard searches. When using wildcards, ALWAYS read the search tips to find out which wildcards are permitted and how they work on that particular website.
- One important tip is the simplest. READ THE SCREEN. If you take time to do that, you can avoid many rookie mistakes.
- Consider searching for uncommon names first. If John Smith married Hortense Frinzwilter, don’t search for John Smith—search for Hortense Frinzwilter. If David Brown had a brother Eliphalet Brown, search for Eliphalet. David may appear on the same page or in the same source.
- If you enter a year, ALWAYS select “range of years” or + or – x years. Years are often estimated, approximated, or incorrectly reported.
- Don’t stop just because you succeed! Success can be a barrier to greater success. One common mistake is to stop searching when we find something. It’s great to find something about our ancestor, but we should continue our search. Finish the list of search results or “hits”, then continue with the other search aspects (see tip 9) even after finding what you were seeking.
- Alter your search approach to find information not just by name, but also by places your ancestors lived, topic (e.g., ethnicity, religion, society), time period, event (e.g., war, famine), characteristic, record type needed, or keyword. Altering your approach may give you additional information.
- The Internet is dynamic. If you don’t find it today, try again later. If you find something today, you may be able to find yet more later. This means that our searches may need to be repeated from time to time to locate new information or newly indexed or categorized information.
- Did you know you can use site: or inurl: to focus on the best results? For example, I want to see if any of my STUBBS family living in Iron county, Utah appear on the USGenweb page for Iron county, but that USGenWeb page doesn’t have a search tool. So, I just type site:rootsweb.com inurl:utiron stubbs into my Google search, and I’ve cut hours of searching to just seconds.