Googling for Genealogy

There seem to be a number of folks that feel a simple google search of ancestors name is about as worthwhile as watching paint dry. I’ve found that googling a name can be extremely successful and satisfying, but only if you’re approaching it with the right attitude.

Your chances of finding relevant results for your ancestors with the most common names aren’t great. I know I won’t find much of importance by googling “Charles F. O’Donnell” in Philadelphia because it’s such a common name, regardless of the time period. *

The best place to start is with your ancestor’s that have less common names. One of my favorite searches is for “Hiram Felver”—make sure to use those double quotes around the name to avoid searching everything with either Hiram or Felver in the results.

You can also utilized google’s advanced search filters to narrow the results if there’s still too many:

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 9.36.46 AM

Try using place names (as I did in this example), years, etc. Also remember that many of the women we’re researching will be listed as “Mrs. Hiram Felver” instead of their given name.

Not finding any gems by googling? My best advice is to keep at it. I periodically google the same group of great-grandparent names just to see if anything new has turned up. More and more records and source materials are digitized every day.

Googling “Hiram Felver” has given me information on where he attended school, what organizations he belonged to, and—the one item I find most exciting—that Thomas Edison offered Hiram a job as a machinist for $21 per week in 1887. There’s no indication that Hiram took the job, but it’s still fascinating. A letter Thomas Edison wrote to my ancestor came up for auction a few years ago. This led me to the Thomas Edison Papers at Rutgers, where I was able to view the letters Hiram had written to Edison. I have periodic google searches to thank, because these letters aren’t going to magically show up on ancestry one day.

*Confession: that doesn’t mean I never google the more common names, I just know I’m not going to find much that’s relevant to the ancestor I’m researching.


5 thoughts on “Googling for Genealogy

  1. Google is what got me started on my family tree. One day, I decided to google my grandfather and got super lucky- I found a link to his whole family tree- minus my generation and my mother’s. I was able to contact the person who put it all together and he was nice enough to send me his entire gedcom file. I eventually met this distant cousin and found out that his father had spent years doing the research on the family and had stored it on index cards, in shoeboxes, in his attic- only to be discovered after his death. I’m sure this isn’t a common experience, but boy, did I luck out!!

  2. Reblogged this on Twisted Tree Genealogy and commented:
    I have used Google with mixed results. The first time I googled my grandfather, I found a huge portion of his family tree and a distant cousin behind the work. This cousin was happy to share all of the information that he had. I can’t say that I expect that stroke of luck to happen at that level ever again!!

  3. I also used Google to find my family tree, and realized that things appear and disappear so unless I made notes when I tried to go back I had great difficulty in finding the same information. I too found a distant cousin who had put up pictures of gravestones and we made contact and shared information. I found Google books was a great source, as information in books does not always come up on the web search.

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