I’ve written several articles for Family Tree Magazine on surname strategies, but wanted to share with you my favorite strategy for tracking down ancestors who share a name with several other people. For example, once you’ve found a “John Adams”, the question becomes: Is this *your* John Adams?
I also did a Surname Genealogy Research Webinar for Family Tree University. If you want to dive deeper into surname strategies, the link is at the bottom of this article.
My trick for deciding which John Adams is mine, is using Search Engine Math. The name comes from utilizing Google “operators” much like you would an algebra formula (a+3=b-6). Sound complex? It’s not – let me show you how it’s done.
The Surname Problem
Let’s say you’re looking for an ancestor named John Groves who lived in Ohio from about 1810 to 1890, married to Charlotte.
However, when you search Ancestry.com or other database sites, you find dozens of John Groves; many in Illinois and Pennsylvania. This is when you go to Google and employ Search Engine Math. Instead of searching Google for “john groves”, your search string will look like this:
“john gr*ves” and ohio -illinois -pennsylvania and charlotte #genealogy
Hint: You don’t need to capitalize words when using Google.
What results will this search string bring?
- It will find pages that have the name John Groves; not just John and no just Groves, but it has to find pages where those two words are next to one another. Why did I use the asterisk? Because I’ve seen Groves mis-transcribed as Graves and I didn’t want to miss any possible John Grove mentions. However, if this returns too many pages, use the phrase “john groves” instead.
- AND, the page must also include the word Ohio.
- AND, the page must NOT have the word illinois
- AND, the page must NOT have the word pennsylvania
- AND, the page must include the word Charlotte
- I also used the hashtag #genealogy; this means Google will also search for social media pages with all of the other parameters that are tagged as #genealogy. This is an optional search term that you can try; if it doesn’t bring the results you want, exclude it from your search string.
- You *can* add 18* to your search string in hopes of filtering results to specific time periods; this may or may not work – but I always give it a try.
If you’d like my Genealogist’s Guide to Google Search Operators – it’s free – just fill out the box below and the cheatsheet is yours.
And if you want a more in-depth experience, the link to the Webinar is below