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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Working with Search Engines
by Rhonda R. McClure

March 30, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

If you visit any of the search engine sites, such as Alta Vista or Yahoo, and type in the word "genealogy" you will find yourself wading through a number of sites. And I suspect that your frustration level will get the better of you within the space of about thirty minutes. Every genealogical site available on the Internet would show up, and chances are that most of those that you visit would not have what you are looking for. Instead of using just the word genealogy, include something unique that you are looking for.

Computers tend to be very literal. So typing in a search term traditionally reveals any and all sites that include that term. For genealogists this can be very frustrating, as we are often looking for surnames, but don't want a site just because the CEO shares that same surname.'s Internet FamilyFinder helps, because when you type in a name, it locates that name only on Web sites that are genealogy-related.

To effectively find items on the Internet, you need to be able to effectively use the search engines.

A Sample Search

My favorite search engine is the Alta Vista site that allows me to not only put in standard search terms, but to also ask a question or state a fact. For instance, last year in helping my daughter with her Florida History project, we went out onto the Internet. We started at the Alta Vista site and in their search field I typed:

I need information on Florida history

And then I pressed the Search push button. The sites that were listed were all very applicable to what I wanted. However, it was still a little broad, so we refined the statement to read:

I need information about Pensacola history

That revealed even better sites and we were off and running.

Doing the Same Thing in Genealogy

Similar statements could be used in a genealogical search when you want to search for more than just a name. Decide what you want to know about and then type in the statement or question. For instance, if you are interested in learning about STANDERFERs in Illinois. OK, so I am the one interested in STANDERFERs in Illinois, but it will be a good example. You could type in:

I need information about Standerfer family in Illinois

This would give you certain links.

Note that not all search engines will allow you to include such a sentence. Some of them require you to use quotation marks and plus and minus signs to signify what you want. For instance, on search engine's requiring these characters, my search request might look like:

"family history" +Standerfer +Illinois

Whenever you do a search with multiple words such as the example above, it is important to remember that the search results will include those sites that fit all the criteria in the first couple of pages of links.

In Conclusion

Experiment when you visit the search engine sites. Eventually you will find the site that you find works best for you and will get to know the idiosyncrasies of that particular engine.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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