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A Basic Family Search Tutorial - Page 1

Rule #1

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

Rule #1 says to choose search words carefully. Open up the Google search engine and let's have a little practice. Type into the search field the word "Leathers" without the quotation marks. You will notice at the top of the search page that after inputting only the word Leathers it returns approximately 553,000 entries. This is far more than you could ever look at! Not only that, but if you look at the first few entries you will quickly see that the vast majority of these entries deal with the material "leather" as a textile, involving everything from leather sofas to Harley Davidson riding pants. Is there any information at all in here about the Leathers family name? Sure, somewhere in those 553,000 is Leathers family stuff, but you have a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of sifting through all these search returns and finding it.

One of the biggest problems most people fall victim to is they use search words that are too common, meaning they apply to too many different things besides the actual object of the search. Unfortunately for us, leather is a popular, therefore common commodity, making our family name alone virtually useless as a search word without a lot of help from other words and search techniques.

You're probably thinking to yourself that you're not a complete idiot, and of course you would not input just that one word. Instead, you would use the words, Leathers Family together. If we put these words into Google we find that indeed, it does narrow down our search to only 68,700 possibilities (or whatever it has grown or shrunk to since this was written.) That's a significant improvement over 553,000! Does this mean that there are 68,700 websites that have information about the Leathers family? Not at all. What it means is that 68,700 sites contain both the words "Leathers" and "family", but they are not necessarily together. (There is another trick we could use here but we'll cover that more in Rule #2.)

In order to get our search returns down to something more manageable we need to add at least another word or two. But what words should we pick? This is where knowing something about our subject becomes crucial. In this case our subject is "genealogy". Just putting that word into our search will greatly narrow down the responses we get back from 68,700 to 2,860. Whew!!! We've gotten all the way from 553,000 to 2,860! That's a major improvement, but we can do better. We can use the specialty words of our subject, like "heraldry" or "ancestry". The more specific and obscure the word, the better our chance are of narrowing down our search.

So let's try it. Let's add the word ancestry to our search so that we are using the words, "Leathers family genealogy ancestry," and see what happens. Hey! What's going on here? Instead of narrowing down the search returns even further, using "ancestry" as an additional search word brought back 10,100 returns! We're going in reverse. What has happened?

Congratulations! You've just fallen victim to a quirk about search engines that very few people even know exists. Search engines interpret the search words you input using what is known as a "heuristic algorithm", which is a fancy way of saying they use a mathematical formula to play with the search words so as to give you back the greatest possible number of responses related to your search terms. The more terms you use, the more combinations a search engine can come up with. Of course the programmers know you want to zero in on your topic and not be bothered by unrelated information, so the algorithm is written such that it uses combinations of words most frequently found on the internet.

If you use only one word, it searches for only that word. If you use two words it searches for all webpages that contain both of those words. If you use three words it looks for pages that have all three words. But if you use a fourth word the algorithm then begins playing what we might call the "either/or game", meaning it will find pages that contain combinations of your words but that do not necessarily have ALL of your search words. It mixes and matches them in such a way so as to give you the greatest possible number of responses.

In fact even the order you put the words in affects the responses you get. Take our words, "Leathers family genealogy ancestry", and reverse the order of genealogy and ancestry. You will find that instead of getting 10,100 returns you now get only 8,100. Same words, different order, but it makes a very big difference! So be sure if you are using more than 3 search words that you try arranging them in different orders. You should also be aware that Google (and most other search engines) has a ten word maximum limit, so no more than ten search words can be used at one time.

Let's summarize what we've covered under Rule #1: - Choosing search words carefully.

1. Our search should always use our root word, in this case "Leathers" to start.
2. Add up to two additional words, being sure to select the more unusual ones regarding our subject, in our case, genealogy is our subject, so we used it and ancestry as additional search terms.
3. If we use more than three search words, remember the order makes a difference, so try rearranging the words in different combinations, always keep "Leathers" (or your key search term) as the first word.

Does all this sound too difficult to remember? Google has made it simple by developing a specific genealogy search feature that automatically sets up searches using many of the ideas discussed on this page. You can give it a try Right Here if you like. This will help you get used to setting up proper searches. Eventually, however, you will want to learn to set them up for yourself. The Google Genealogy Search feature is still not even close to being as flexible as a good researcher can be.

OK, let's go to the next page and look at Rule #2!