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How Does a Search Engine Search?

Search engines work by taking your input (you have to do your part and have a specific item, name, or phrase in mind) and running a complex set of algorithms on your keywords to return a list of items which the engine believes is what you are looking for.

Unfortunately, even if you give specific details about the type of item you are looking for, you may be faced with hundreds of documents to weed through. On the positive side, you'll generally find what you are looking for in the first fifty items.

Different search engines have different specialities, and it takes time to get to know each one, how to conduct an in depth search, and what limitations each has. Every site has a help section giving you details about searching, so if you don't come up with a result the first time, check out the help and see if you are conducting the search the way the engine wants it.

In addition to the main search engines, family researchers can use two specific genealogy search engines — not mailing list search engines, or newsgroup search engines, but real, honest-to-goodness search engines which only cover genealogy-related sites! They are Genealogy.com's Family Finder, and the I Found It! search engine. There are also multi-engine search engines which allow you to plug in your keywords, and search through more than one search engine at a time. Dogpile is my favorite multi-search engine, and it is discussed below, along with other useful engines.

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