Sunday, February 16, 2014

Have You Googled Your Ancestor?

Many new genealogy and family history researchers often get stuck when looking for information on their ancestors. Many times it is because they develop tunnel vision and only look on the web site that their on-line tree resides whether it be on Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch or the various other sites that exist. The advantage to using on-line trees is that many of those places can do the searching even when you are asleep. But if you don't look elsewhere you may be missing out on many other sources of information.

How about starting with the obvious place to search on the Internet for your relatives ... an Internet search engine like Google or Microsoft Bing.

Start with searching for your ancestor's name. If it is a common name you will be overwhelmed with search results for everyone but the person you are looking for. This is where you need to know something about the person you want to find. I will be using a distant relative of mine, Evelyn Starr, as an example. In my first search just for her name I came across the web page for a company, a Facebook page, someone on LinkedIn, White Pages listing, and an author. All fairly recent people all still living. Doesn't help me since I know she is dead.

So is there anything that might distinguish my Evelyn Starr from others with the same name?

Well, in reading through the various census records I noticed she listed her occupation at one time as a violinist. That is definitely a fairly unique occupation. So I added the word "violinist" to the search query along with her name. Now what shows up first are old newspaper concert reviews from the New York Times in the early 1910s and also from newspapers images in the Google Newspaper Archives from the same period. There is even a link to another researcher with her in an on-line family tree. She just wasn't a violinist, she was a concert violinist of some renown. There is even a clue as to whom she studied under (Leopold Auer) and fellow students like Efrem Zimbalist and Jascha Heifetz. For me, as a lover of music, that was an amazing find.

Even if your ancestor is someone without a distinguished career like Evelyn there is always something in their lives to set them apart from others. Try adding the name of the town they lived in or the name of their spouse or children.

So when you think you have exhausted all the records on your favourite genealogy web site try going back to basics and do an Internet search for your ancestors. You just might be surprised as to what you will find!

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