Using an internet search engine

Firstly, my apologies for the lack of updates to the Blog:  this time it’s been due to a malfunction in me, rather than the website.  Normal service has been resumed, as the BBC used to say…

This week I thought I’d look at using internet search engines, such as Google or Bing, in your research.

When using a dedicated family history website, such as FreeBMD, my advice is ‘less is more’:  if searching, for example, for the death of Eva Westwood, born in 1853 in Wolverhampton, who you appears on the 1891 census but not subsequently, then using the search terms “Eva” “Westwood” the date range 1891-1911 and selecting “All Couunties”, will give you  four possibilities: little Eva Westwood who died aged under one year old in 1891, Eva Matilda Westwood who died in 1896 aged 28, Eva Westwood who died in 1897 aged 45, and Eve Janette Westwood who died in 1900 aged 28.

A moment’s thought tells us that the Eva who died in 1897 must be the one we seek.

In fact if we’d left the date range blank, there would only have been 10 deaths registered for an Eva Westwood in the Egland and Wales, the earliest in 1878 and the most recent in 1962, and the only one which fits with the known year of birth is the Eva who died in 1897.  (Be prepared to be flexible with the age at death, however:  this may be a year or two out!)

BUT:  if you add “Wolverhampton” to the search terms, knowing that Eva lived, to the best of your knowledge, in that town all her life, you wouldn’t find her, because poor Eva was admitted after 1891 to an asylum in Stafford, where she died.

So – when using dedicated websites, “less is more”.  But when using a search engine such as Google, “more is more.”  There are certain tricks you need to get to grips with, however, if you’re not going to be overwhelmed with information.

Picking another ancestor from my tree, if I search for Joseph  Thomas Westwood, (who I know was born in Wolverhampton and died in 1914 fighting for King and Country) then using the search terms Joseph Thomas Westwood yields a massive 633,000 results. And I’ve only got to the second page before I discover that some of these are for a Thomas Westwood, and one for a Thomas Brickell of the Westwood Fire Department, and by page 20 I’m looking at two men called Joseph and Thomas, both of whom lived in Westwood Road.

This is because the search engine finds every instance when any of the words are used, in any combination. This is because Google is searching for those words in any combination: Joseph, Thomas, Westwood, Joseph Thomas, Thomas Joseph, Joseph Thomas Westwood, Thomas Joseph Westwood, and any person called Joseph and/or Thomas with Westwood in their address.

What I need to do is to instruct Google to search for the three words together: and the easiest way to do this is to use double quotation marks.  Searching for “Joseph Thomas Westwood” gives me 5,230 results – the first one is my man, but the rest of the first page doesn’t seem to relate.  So I try “Joseph Thomas Westwood Wolverhampton 1914” – and Bingo! The number of results has increased to 20, 200 results – but the first page of hits all relate to my man.  There are links to articles, photographs and family trees. I even find a photograph of him standing outside his shop.

If you use this method of seaching the internet, it’s also possible that you may find results from  all sorts of unexpected places or records.

There’s a short and very clear video tutorial about using Google for searches at



About kate

Experienced genealogist but virgin blogger...
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