Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Refine Your Searches with Google Search Operators

Searching online using Google Search becomes almost automatic over time. But unless you become aware of some of the additional tools available from Google, you may be driving in first gear without knowing how to shift gears.

Searching is the lifeblood of genealogists. Every time we sit down to find our ancestors or relatives, we are searching. How we search changes as we learn more about what we are trying to accomplish, but we can get to the point where we are stalled in our search efforts both by the availability of records and by our own limitations in understanding more effective ways to search. Online searching is a learned skill. No one is born with online searching skills. Everyone has to learn how to do effective searches.

First a word (really lots of words) about browsers and search engines. Browsers are the programs that run on your computer or other devices that connect you to the internet. Some common browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer (now obsolete), Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Edge. There are dozens of other browsers out there. See Wikipedia: List of web browsers. Google's Chrome browser has well over half of all the market share for browsers worldwide. None of the others garner more than about 12% with Safari in second place and the other down in very low percentages. See Brower Market Share Worldwide. If you purchased a Windows-based computer, you probably inherited a Microsoft browser and have never changed. I usually have four browser programs on my computer and can switch between them if I encounter an issue with a website not functioning or displaying properly. There is a good reason for Chrome's popularity: it works and has a huge number of add-ons and extensions.

What about search engines? A search engine is a web-based program that uses your browser to search for information from websites on the internet. Search engines are browser independent so you can use any browser with any search engine. Google Search is the most popular browser in the world and has about an 87% market share in 2017. See Worldwide desktop market share of leading search engines from January 2010 to July 2017. There is always a reason for this kind of dominance. Microsoft's Bing, the second most popular search engine has a 5.7% market share. If you are using one of the other search engines, such as Bing, Yahoo, AOL or whatever, you might consider doing your serious genealogical searches using Chrome with Google. Enough said at this point, but I do think it is time I came back to this subject. In the past, I have done test searches and reported the results to show what happens with several search engines. I will do that again when I finish this post.

Google has several "search operators" which include special typographical symbols or commands that enhance or focus your searches. Google Search Help has a web page called "Refine web searches" that lists some of the commands and symbols available. I suggest looking through the list and selecting a few such operators to add to your search arsenal. I frequently use phrases in quotes to search for individal's names. Some people frequently use wildcards. I also use the command define: to define words and phrases.

There is also a list of search operators, power tips and other useful information on the MIT Libraries website in an article entitled, "Google Search Tips: Getting Started." One comment, however, is that the "+" or plus sign has been removed from Google's search operators. It has been deemed unnecessary.

I use very few search operators because I rarely need them. I have noted in several posts and presentations, that I can usually make a number of searches and find what I need in the time it takes to construct special formulaic searches.

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