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If you have a beginning target in mind, someone or something specific you’re looking for, you’ll be better able to choose the type of search you need and formulate that search to achieve your goal. Be sure to track your searches (use a spreadsheet to mark off the sites or databases you’ve searched) and when you’ve exhausted your initial search start fresh with an allied surname or objective target search.


Try unusual and dissimilar variants of your surname(s). Many online databases (including federal census returns) include your ancestor with variant name spellings. Many enumerators recorded names the way they sounded rather than the way your ancestor spelled them. For example, the surname Smith could have been recorded as Smyth, Smythe, Smitty, or Smit. Also, make sure you try “last name, first name” as in “smith, john” in your genealogical searches.


Both maiden and married names should always checked when searching on-line. It’s surprising how often we forget to search married names. Also, if one of your ancestors was married more than once remember to search all the married names.


Whenever possible use date ranges for your searches. Census records are notorious for being off by years for births. Search a 10 year range for the best results. If a date range isn’t possible, search each date separately until the range has been exhausted.  Also, try using various date range formats, i.e. 1840-1860, 1840 to 1860, 1840…1860, etc.


Use Ctr+F (Control Find) in your web browser to quickly locate key words in your search. Remember to use alternate surname spellings. PDF documents also have a find feature (binocular icon) to search the entire document.


Add genealogical terms to your surname search strings and search with different emphasis. Use birth, born, died, dead, married, marriage, buried, cemetery, list, index, will, probate, patent, family, history, genealogy, roster, regiment, etc. in you strings.


If a genealogy record is on the internet then chances are that Google has indexed the information. For genealogy, the fundamental principle in Google searching for an ancestor is to use methods and approaches that maximize your chances of finding the information you want while simultaneously minimizing irrelevant results that are of no value.

  1. Country Listings – In most cases, when using Google to search, the country is defaulted to the one you live in. Try typing “google uk” to get the website address for Google’s UK search engine, or “google country” for any country, to return better results. Use the Google search engine for the country where the genealogy record exists.
  2. Advanced Search – Always use Google’s Advance Search for genealogy searches. The filters and tools in the advanced search feature are perfect for genealogy searches. Use the Exact Phrase line of Advanced Search and try obvious surname variations. Again, make sure you try “last name, first name” as in “smith, john” in your genealogical searches.


               Genealogy sites that contain their own search engines make up the “invisible” internet. Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.ord, and RootsWeb.com must be searched individually inside the site.


That’s it. Remember to cite your sources. There’s nothing worse than finding a additional clue to a previously searched individual only to find that you forgot where you got the original information.


Search on-line for the following records in the area your ancestors lived.

  • Census Records (Federal and State)
  • Vital records (Birth, Marriage, Death)
  • Military records (National and State)
  • Criminal records (Jails, Insane Asylums, Poorhouses)
  • Cemetery research (Funeral Homes and Cemetery)
  • Land and property records (Patents, War Bounty, Homesteads)
  • Community newspapers (Obits, Social happenings, Wedding announcements)
  • Printed Biographies (Contemporary biographies of local citizens)
  • Local Histories (Townships, Cities, States)
  • City Directories (Residence and Occupations)
  • Business Directories (Employments)
  • Family Bible (Vital dates)


  • Start as narrow as possible then broaden the search.
  • Try variations of known information, including surnames.
  • Slowly broaden the pattern by relaxing or removing a constraint.
  • Retry variations again with relaxed constraints.
  • Think outside the box…

Good luck with your family history search!