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A Basic Family Search Tutorial

For a slightly abbreviated, printable version of this tutorial CLICK HERE.

The advent of the internet has opened up whole new worlds for genealogical research. Unfortunately, few people take the time to learn how to search the internet effectively. At best someone plugs a few words into a search engine then wades through pages and pages of things which may or may not truly be related to the intended search. There are much more effective ways to search and to get relevant information returned.

A question you may have been asked, or may have asked others is, Which search engine is best? Keep in mind, we're not talking about specialized genealogy search engines, like you might find on RootsWeb or Those will be covered in the Advanced Tutorial pages, however, the techniques we discuss in this basic tutorial can and should be used when searching those specialized engines as well.

There are literally dozens and dozens of general search engines. This is where basic genealogy research begins. Why not just skip right to a genealogy site and forget about the standard search engines? Web hosts such as Tripod, AngelFire, Geocities and dozens of others host literally millions of personal web pages for free. These pages are unlikely to show up on a genealogy search engine, which are typically only able to search genealogy, and genealogy-related sites. Failing to search these free hosts means you're missing out on millions of potential genealogical finds.

So the question arises, Is it more effective to search all of them, or just one engine, or...what? Take heart, fellow Leathers, the truth is simpler than you ever imagined. It isn't necessary to know or use every search engine. A small handful of engines handle the vast majority of all web traffic. Below is a list of the top search engines along with the percentages of the internet's web traffic they handle on average each month:

1. Google..........35%
2. Yahoo...........28%
3. MSN..............16%
4. AOL...............15%
5. Ask Jeeves....3%

As you can see, these five search engines account for approximately 97% of all web searches. All the dozens of remaining search engines pick up only about 3% of the searches, and are probably not worth your time playing with. In fact, Yahoo is not actually a search engine, but is what is known as a "Web Directory", which is slightly different. For our purposes we can consider it a search engine. You can handle nearly all your family search tasks by sticking to just Google and Yahoo. For the rest of this search tutorial we will concern ourselves only with Google. You will find links to these and the other relevant search engines by Clicking Here.

You might wonder why you would ever need to use anything but Google at all. Most people do not realize that before a webpage shows up in a search engine, that engine must first go out and find it. That takes time, and there are many webpages on the internet that are not listed yet in any search engine. Some pages are listed in some search engines but not others. Currently, Google states that it lists four billion pages. Only three billion of these have been sorted by topic, (a task known as "indexing"), so effectively we can say Google makes available about three billion webpages of information to us. That's roughly half of all the webpages that are out there. Yahoo also claims it has about three billion pages indexed. Using these two together should provide us with access to most of the seven or eight billion webpages that can be found on the internet.

Now that you have determined which engines to use it's time to learn how to perform searches that target only the information we want. What good is a search if it returns of 300,000 entries to look at? So, here we go! Here are the basic rules to keep in mind which we'll explain in greater detail one by one.

Rule #1 - Choose search words carefully.
Rule #2 - Use short phrases in quotation marks.
Rule #3 - Limit responses using Boolean search delimiters.

Don't be frightened off by such words as "Boolean" or "delimiter", and don't ignore advice like choosing search words carefully because you think it's too simple. The fact is that most people pick inappropriate words, too many words, or too few words when performing a search. Properly utilizing a search engine is a little like performing a ballet; everything needs to be done just so. A little too much of this or a bit too little of that will spell diasaster. So let's look at these three rules and try a few experiments with a search engine. Click on Rule #1 above to get started.