Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Family History: Did You Google™ It?

With a run on all the possibilities for pushing your family history research into the next frontier, how could I not spend some time discussing Google™?!

Actually, make that not one day, but two.

Google is too monstrous to address with one mere blog post. It is like the air researchers breathe—so ubiquitous we take it for granted. Until it gets taken away.

Today, let’s focus on a mini-smorgasbord of how Google™ helps bring our research forward. Tomorrow, we’ll get into the meat of the matter: Google Plus.



Of course, the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they hear the term “Google” is the search capability. Anyone with a handheld device with Internet connectivity has learned to transform problem solving scenarios with one additional step: take the question to Google™.

You can do exactly that with your genealogical research. Simple steps like putting quote marks around specific terms you wish to isolate (like “John Fitzgerald Kennedy” and “Dallas, Texas”) will help eliminate false leads. But that is only a start. You can add more details through the advanced search page.

In addition, you can hone your search even further by utilizing additional Google™ tools such as Google™ Books, Google™ Images, Google™ News or Google™ Scholar. You can even search through blogs on Google™!

And don’t forget that Google™ is actually the proud owner of YouTube—another resource for searching out those genealogy materials.


For those of you who are visually oriented, try using Google™ Maps to scope out distances your ancestors traveled from one census location to another. For the more recent census records which include site addresses for your relatives’ residences, Google™ Maps “Street View” can assist you in determining whether the house they lived in might still be standing.

Before I realized I could get that assistance from Google™ Maps, my husband and I had actually mapped a route through Fort Wayne to determine the proximity of his ancestors’ homes to each other—and discovered some addresses were merely empty lots full of weeds and others now sported recently rebuilt residences. (Worse, in another trip to research Chicago ancestors, we had ended up in neighborhoods which vanished and were replaced by endless warehouses).

Street View allows you to get a glimpse of what the area now looks like. From that, you can determine the possibility of whether your family’s former home is still standing—and if it is, what it might look like.

Just as Google™ Maps allows you the visual experience of locating ancestors’ former homes and properties, Google™ Alerts can lead you to the words others may have written about a particular person or subject. By entering the terms you wish to receive “alerts” for, you will be notified within a short time after the Google™ trawler stumbles upon the search term for which you have indicated interest.

When some of you shared with me the story of those World War Two letters found stashed in an old hat box, I was just as delighted to read about it as you were. And keenly disappointed to not be able to discover the rest of the story.

It bugged me so much that I went to Google™ Alerts and entered the search parameters I wished to receive notifications on.

When the letters finally were returned to descendants of the intended recipients, I received a Google™ Alert on the news story within two hours after it was posted online.

That same service—free, incidentally—can tip you off about recent developments regarding any search term you’ve been seeking.


For those who appreciate the benefits of collaboration, Google™ is again right there, ready to help.

If you wish to set aside a separate email address for your work with others on a specific project, you can set up a gmail account, free of charge. Sometimes, that helps manage a project without having to divulge an email account you use for personal reasons or work purposes. You can even earmark it so it is readily recognizable for everyone involved in your research project. For instance, when I set up A Family Tapestry (on Blogspot, another Google™ product, by the way), I established a gmail address specifically for the blog. Predictably, the address is afamilytapestry (at) gmail (dot) com—something easily remembered by those who need to drop me a line.

For those who appreciate the benefits of Google™ Drive, it also enables usage of Google™ Docs—a way to collaborate on documents for those working on group research projects. Our genealogy society found this useful when revamping our organization’s bylaws, but it can also be used by family history researchers working on common goals.

Of course, the prime way to share with Google™ is on Google™ Plus—an idea large enough to call for a post of its own, which we will tackle tomorrow.


  1. Replies
    1. Colleen, I've had a lifelong love affair with maps, and would wallpaper my walls with them if I could. If not, I'm with you: Google Maps is quite handy. I could just get lost in maps :)

  2. ...not to mention Google Earth. In GE, select to "View" / "Historical Imagery." There are some other "time machine" mapping sites too.

    There are so many awesome searching tools these days -

    1. Ooh, yes! Google Earth! Thanks for reminding me about that excellent resource, Iggy! I'll have to check out that "Historical Imagery" section you recommended. Sounds fascinating!

  3. Google is just the best. I am anxious to read what you have to say about Google Plus..as I have not gone there yet:)

    1. Hmmmmm...Google Plus. Well, as I'm not really satisfied with the way I've utilized Google Plus so far, you'll see there is a lot more potentially to be said on that topic. Sometimes, I'm really overwhelmed with these digital riches. Think I need to sit down and strategize how to manage the time and effort devoted to all the possibilities. Gotta have a plan...

  4. Thank you for all these tips -- nice and comprehensive. I copied the URL for googling blogs. I've used Google for Books, Maps, and history (often it takes me to wikipedia), but I did not know about these other functions. Research is endless! But that's a good thing.


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