17 June 2011

NEW AncestorSearch version 1.5: See Google Search results in real-time as you type!

This article refers to the AncestorSearch using Google Custom Search found by clicking the link at the top-right of this blog.

Before I get to the exciting enhancements to the tool, I first want to say thank you to all of the people who have been using it (over 18,000 hits in the last couple of months), and the many compliments and write-ups from people who have extended their family trees as a result of the tool.  For example, Peter Calver, founder of LostCousins, stated in his 6 Jun 2011 newsletter "the first time I tried it, it led me to a new 'lost cousin'".

So, here are a few of the key new enhancements:
  • As you type, you will now see a real-time Partial Preview of Google Search Results at the bottom of the form.  Play around with this, as I think you'll find it very useful (I've already found a few new connections because of this feature).  For example, you can quickly type different spellings of names and in real-time see what difference it may make in your search results -- without ever leaving the search page.
  • Next, before clicking the Search button, you can edit the search string however you wish in the long box.  For example, you may want to add an exclude term to the end of your search:  if you're getting too many irrelevant search results that are coming from cnn.com, you could just add -cnn.com to the end of the search string (not to pick on cnn for any reason).  Or, if your ancestor shared the same name as someone associated with George Washington, but you were getting overwhelmed with search results on George Washington's associate, you could add -"George Washington" to the end of the search string to exclude pages mentioning that founding father. 
  • Then, when you're ready to run your full Google search, just click the "Run Full Google Search" button.  Your results will now appear in a new window (or new tab).  This was an often-requested enhancement so that it was easier for people to go back and make changes to their search without having to type in all the search terms again.
Give the tool a try and leave comments on if it helps you find more connections in your tree too!  And as always, I welcome any suggestions for future enhancements.

Here's the tool:  AncestorSearch using Google Custom Search

(I've tested the tool in Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer, but I don't have access to every version of every browser.  In general, I've found Chrome works by far the fastest with this tool, and in general.)

Also, check out the enhanced Historical County Boundary Maps tool on this website to put your search in the correct historical geographic context. It uses Google Maps to display US County Boundaries from ANY HISTORICAL YEAR. You can then click any county on the map to see info on the county in that year, and you can click the < and > buttons next to the year to go backward and forward a decade at a time to instantly see how the boundaries shifted around your ancestor.

This is an update to my original post, "Does this Google Custom Search help find records about your ancestors?", and the follow-up, "Updated: AncestorSearch using Google Custom Search, version 1.1".



05 June 2011

New and simple online tool uses Google Maps to show historical county boundaries

THIS POST CONTAINS UPDATES FROM 06 JUN 2011:
Thanks so much for all of the interest in this tool, and for your positive comments and constructive feedback!  I've incorporated several enhancements into the current version.

We all know the importance of county governments for maintaining various types of records that are useful for genealogical research.  But how often have you tried searching for an ancestor's historical records for a given county, only to realize that you were searching in the right place but the wrong county?  In fact, according to John H. Long, the director of the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries Project at the Newberry Library, "the average number of boundary changes per county in the U.S. is 4.5".  This means that there's a very good chance that you are sometimes looking in the wrong county for some of your historical genealogical records.

Using the fantastic information from the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries, I've created an online Historical County Boundary Maps tool based on Google Maps.  You can type in ANY PRESENT-DAY PLACE in the U.S. and ANY HISTORICAL YEAR to see the map of county boundaries then in effect, along with all of the current Google Maps places, roads, etc to put the historical map in a current and familiar context!  You can then click any county on the map to see the specific history of the boundary changes, and type in different years to see the boundary changes over time.  Here's how to do it: