06 September 2011

Undocumented tricks for surfacing buried ancestors using the AncestorSearch Google Custom Search tool


OK, maybe you won't surface any actual ancestors with these tricks, but you very well may surface a number of buried web pages about them!  By using these tricks, I've found many additional web pages that were buried deep in the far recesses of the internet that mentioned my ancestors.

First for some brief background.  As you can see, AncestorSearch has input boxes for First Name, Last name, as well as Alternate Last Name.  This is useful if you want to check alternate spellings for a surname, as in the example below where I'm looking for an association between two people that I believe are in some way related, but I think their surnames could be listed a couple of different ways:

This particular search doesn't find anything across all of Google (see first image below).  And if you were just typing these names into Google, you'd have to wade through about 17,100 search results to find that out.  Fun. (see second image below).

I know...you could type the following text into Google's search form including placing all the pipes (that's the "|" key) and quotes and spaces in the right places, typing both forward and reverse name order, etc., but isn't that a painful waste of time when it's something the AncestorSearch form does for you?
"william majors"|"majors, william"|"william magers"|"magers, william" "samuel samples"|"samples, samuel"|"samuel sample"|"sample, samuel" "cowley"

So, where are the undocumented tricks, you ask.  Here they are:

1.  GO AHEAD, REVERSE THOSE NAMES.  What if you want to try two Alternate First Names instead of Alternate Last Names?  Go ahead.  Just forget that the boxes say First Name and Last Name and reverse the names, as in the following example where I wanted to see if anything could be found just using either the full first name or just the initials for the first name and middle name:

Sure enough!  There is one search result on the internet where somebody has transcribed an 1880 newspaper article. Sweet!:

For comparison, just typing the above names into Google produces about 123,000 results.  I got tired of looking through page after page to see where the above search result appeared in the standard Google listing, but it certainly wasn't in the first several pages.  Also, I couldn't find these search results on Mocavo either, as it doesn't have nearly as much of the entire internet indexed as Google does (and likely, nobody ever will).  AncestorSearch is good at finding this type of buried web page specifically because it starts by taking the widest possible swath of the internet (i.e. all of the internet according to Google), and then filters out the noise with those quotes, pipes, reverse name orders, etc. to produce a much more manageable (and likely more relevant) search result.

2.  WHILE YOU'RE AT IT, IGNORE THE OTHER INSTRUCTIONS TOO.  Forget that it says "Place" next to that box.  Feel free to type in another keyword into the Place box instead.  This could be anything, such as an occupation, the surname of a third person you think might be associated with your first two people, or some other keyword associated with your ancestor (e.g. railroad, bank, prison).  Also, see that big long box at the bottom of the search form? You can add "exclusion terms" into that.  For example, if I know my Majors ancestor above isn't associated with Alexander Majors of Pony Express fame, I can type -Alexander or I could type -"Pony Express" in the long box (that's the "minus" key in front of the words), and pages mentioning the speed-obsessed equestrian are excluded from my search results.  Also, if you don't want your own forum postings and such to appear try excluding your own name.

3.  GIVE YOUR MOUSE A BREAK.  One drawback of the AncestorSearch search form I occassionally hear is that it has multiple input boxes you have to click into and so it's not as simple as Google's one big search box.  True.  So save yourself a lot of time by using the Tab key to move from one input box to the next, and when you're ready, just hit the Enter key to execute your search from any box.  Time yourself doing that versus typing this into Google:  
"majors william"|"william, majors"|"majors w r"|"w r, majors" "samples samuel"|"samuel, samples"|"samples s"|"s, samples" "cowley"
...or versus wading through 123,000 standard Google search results because you didn't use all those quotes and pipes :)

I hope these tricks help you find a few more buried pages out there and lead to a new discovery or two.  If you have other AncestorSearch tips and tricks that have worked for you, please share them by leaving a comment below.