Tips for Finding Ancestors and Relatives on the Internet
A genealogy-specific search engine or directory may yield information that you cannot find on a general search page. For best results, use several different search tools. You can narrow your search and improve your results from general search pages. Not finding your ancestors? Try publishing your info.
Rootsweb is much more than a search engine, their are many services and helps such as
message boards, and
mailing lists. It is an excellent starting place, and most of their services are free. Search for your (recently deceased) ancestors in the;
or search for names in
World Connect contributed data (GEDCOM files), add your own information for others to find, or just add some notes to the records that others contributed.
GeneaNet: search for individuals by name, place, and start / end dates.
Family Search: search Mormon (LDS) Church genealogy data. Maybe you will save yourself a trip to the nearest Family History Center.
Genealogy.com has several free resources including searches and message boards. You must pay a membership fee for some of their other services.
Family Tree Maker allows you to search for a certain name. Results include;
web pages (may not be listed for several months)
CDs available for sale
There is a small problem with
Family Tree Maker and similar gendex search results. They index web pages which are likely to change from the time they are indexed until you view them. You may be directed to the wrong page (your individual is not there), or you may get a page not found error.
Solution: find the name you are looking for in the main index at that web page. If you got a page not found, click on the address box, delete the trailing part of the address, and press enter.
Cyndi Howell offers a comprehensive list of sites that offer genealogy information, directories, software, and etc. This list is being updated, but it is slow. It took 8 months for my page to be listed here.
General Search Engines -- finding a needle in a haystack
You may already suspect that your favorite search engine may not be finding data that you are looking for on the internet -- even though the information may be out there. It is true -- search engines index only small fraction of the web, and probably very few personal genealogy web pages containing the information you are looking for. If you still want to use a general search engine, here are some tips for fine tuning your search along with some reasons that you may miss some data that is out there somewhere.
If you have ever used a general search engine to search for a common name like Young or Brown, you know that you must narrow your search. Most people do not have the time to sift through all the thousands of pages containing the words young or brown. These tips for narrowing your search work for all the search engines listed in the first (green) box. If you want more information, most good search engines have advanced help available.
Look for phrases -- use quotation marks.
If you are looking for people having the last name Young, try searching for this phrase;
Using all lower case means you do not care about case -- you will find Young and YOUNG.
Force words to appear -- put a + in front of them
To insist that the web page contains certain words, regardless of whether they are in an exact phrase, put a plus sign (+) in front of the words you absolutely want to show up. Example;
This search tells the engine to show you only pages that include both the word genealogy and the word young (or Young or YOUNG).
Combine quotes and + sign.
+"surname young" +genealogy
Why this does not always work:
Some search engines accept the search terms, but return unrelated results.
The web page author may not have included the keywords you expect, or perhaps no keywords at all. You might find such a page (if the page contains your search text) by using a search index / directory that ignores keywords. Try
The search robot may not have indexed the page because it is more than one click away from the home (index) page.
The search engine may have rejected the page because;
the keywords were not also used in the main text
Example: Charles Young is in the keyword list, but Charles Dayton YOUNG is in the main text.
some keywords were repeated more than 2 or 3 times.
Example: The keyword list "Artemus Young, Willard Young, Dayton Young, Charles Young, Joyce Young, David Young" and etc. might be be rejected because there are too many repetitions of the Young keyword.
AltaVista limits the number of pages they will index on popular web hosts such as Rootsweb which explains why you find limited genealogy results there. However, their + (and) feature really works (usually) so that you can find results containing only certain words or phrases -- if any one of your +phrases is not present, the page will not be listed. In other words, this example works;
+genealogy +"surname young"
If you do happen to find an interesting page that may list some of your relatives, be sure to bookmark it. It may disappear from the search engine at any time. It seems that some search engines may list a new page for a few weeks before the spam robot kicks it out.
There is a reason that search engines seem to discriminate against genealogy sites. If they do not take drastic action, then spammers will be able to have their pages listed in any search results, even though their page has nothing to do with what you are searching for. I know of 2 possible solutions to this problem;
So, do not give up if you do not find what you are looking for on your favorite search engine / directory. Use a search engine or list that specializes in genealogy. Have you tried the
ones I listed?
The spam robot could be programmed to recognize a list of names, and allow the repetition of surnames.
A real person could review every site for relevant content. Some directories do this, but they do not have time to review all the low traffic sites such as individual genealogy pages.
Here is a list of some of my favorite general search engines / directories. The advanced search page is listed for power searches if available and if the main page ignores quotes and + signs.
Search results are organized to help you quickly find the results you are interested in. Try it by typing a search phrase in the box below. Note the options in the results page for opening pages in a new window, full window, or preview.
Google -- Seems to index many low-traffic sites
AltaVista -- Strict spam rules kick out some genealogy pages. Uses keywords.
Windows Live |
Yahoo Advanced -- Ignores keywords. Exact phrase option may give unrelated results. Controversial because Yahoo hosts adult content.
Ask Jeeves for kids -- children's filtered searching
Link to list of
other chilren's search sites
These search engines may have limited genealogy listings.
Web Crawler |
Galaxy (Advanced) |
Scrub The Web ( Some unrelated results ) |
Rex Skyline |
I have tried many other search engines. Some return no results, results too general, no genealogy listings, no recent listings, or otherwise unsuitable. If you have found a search engine that gives good results that I didn't list, or have other comments, please tell me about it.
Some links for finding living relatives
Publishing your info