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You may think that Google Search is something that you just use to find something, but the program is really more complicated and sophisticated than merely answering simple questions. When I am helping people with their family history questions, I often get a comment asking, "How did you find that?" The answer to that question involves quite a bit of explanation which I usually avoid discussing.
The first step in understanding how Google Search works is to do a lot of searches. On most days when I am working on my computer online, I do hundreds of searches. I may also modify a single search is a variety of ways. I wrote about this process in detail back in 2017. Here are the posts:
If you go back and read these four posts, you will have a lot of good examples of how to think about searches.
The most important things to understand about searching are the following:
#1 Using Google Search is a learned skill and an art and mastery requires extensive practice.
In short, you have to do a lot of searches before you begin to get better at finding things.
#2 You have to assume that what you are looking for is out there somewhere
When your search does not return the information you want, you have to assume that the reason is that you didn't use the correct search terms. You have re-word your search and do it over and then repeat that process over and over again.
#3 Using Boolean algebraic symbols and other fancy "search tools" is generally a waste of time.
I can do a dozen searches with variations before anyone can design a custom search using "search tricks." Also, I can't remember all the search tricks and I would waste even more time looking for search tricks. There are a few very basic things you do need to know. For example, putting a phrase in quotes tells Google you are looking for exactly that string of characters and not all the iterations of the string. Another example is that + is assumed by Google Search so you don't have to use it at all. Also, I find that using a minus sign, -, is mostly a waste of time.
#4 Every search you do gives you information you can use in subsequent searches.
If you don't find what you are looking for, you now know that the search you did was not productive. This means you have to try again with some different or additional tools. For example, if you are looking for a specific person using his or her "specific" name and you do not find anything, you now know that if that person is somewhere to be found, you will have to vary the name or add additional information. To get an example of this, try searching for your own name and see if you can find yourself on the internet. Then try adding other descriptive terms such as places, occupations, etc. To start, put your complete name in quotes and then vary the content of the quotes.
#5 Do the same searches over and over.
Guess what? Google will give you different information every time you do a search even if you do the same search over again. Google limits the time spent on doing any search, so repeating the search will usually bring up a different set of responses.
There is a lot more to learn about searching online but if I were to give you more rules, they wouldn't mean anything to you unless you started searching intensively for an extended period of time. Just remember, the quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.Oh, by the way, Google has an extensive online explanation about how and why their search engine works. You can search for "Google Search" to begin to read everything there is to learn.
Stay tuned for the next installment from the list at the beginning of this post.
See the other posts in this series: