Use Google Earth for genealogy to find long-lost family locations on modern maps. Here’s how!
It can be very surprising to discover that you lived somewhere that you never knew you lived. That was the case for Professional genealogist Alvie Davidson, who recently wrote to me. He’d done some fantastic sleuthing on his own recent family history, and discovered that his family had lived in Huntsville, Alabama when he was a toddler. “This is the first I have even known they lived in Madison County, AL.” But he was not sure about how to use Google Earth to help him locate the family addresses he’d discovered.
“I have learned from the U S Government that my parents lived at (three) different addresses in Huntsville, Madison County, AL when I was a toddler in 1944….I never knew we lived in Huntsville but I learned my mother worked for munitions productions during World War II at Redstone Arsenal. She worked several months toward the end of 1944 and had to quit due to onset of pregnancy. We moved to Florida shortly after she left employment at Redstone Arsenal because we show up on the 1945 Florida State Census.”
Alvie sent me three family addresses. Then he asked for some step-by-step help instructions on how to put Google Earth to work to identify their location today.
4 Steps to Revealing More with Google Earth
1. Search each address in Google Earth. Enter the address in the search box in the upper left corner of Google Earth. If you get a hit, mark it with a placemark (clicking the button that looks like a push pin in Google Earth’s toolbar) and name it. In this case I found two of the three street addresses.
2. Locate a map of the area for the appropriate time period. With a little Google searching, I found the 1940 census enumeration map for Huntsville at the National Archives website. Here’s what that map looks like. (Image right) I then went in search of each of the three addresses on the map.
In this case, I conducted a block-by-block search of the 1940 enumeration district map for the missing address: 110 Winston Street. Unfortunately, not all the street names were clearly legible on this particular map, and I was unable to locate it.
3. Overlay and georeference the enumeration district map in Google Earth to compare the past to the present.Georeference just means to match up known landmarks on the historic map with physical locations on the modern-day map, thereby allowing you to match the two maps up together. By so doing, I was able to locate on the enumeration district map the modern-day locations of the two addresses that I found using Google Earth.
There are businesses in both locations today. Below right is a screen shot showing the current location of one of those addresses. Clearly no longer the old family home.
4. Dig deeper for addresses that have changed. As I mentioned previously, I searched for the 110 Winston Street address in Google Earth with no result. If that happens to you, remove the house number and run a second search on the street name alone. Numbers can change, but it is important to verify whether the street still exists today.
In this case, Google Earth did not locate a Winston Street in Huntsville, AL. Knowing that errors and typos can happen to the best of us, I ran a quick Google search for Huntsville, AL city directories, and verified that indeed Winston Street did exist at that time in history. So, at some point between 1940 and today, the name appears to have been changed.
I headed back to Google and ran the following search query:
“winston street” “huntsville alabama”
The quotation marks tell Google that each exact phrase must appear in all search results. The phrases will appear in bold in the snippet descriptions of each result.
The result above caught my eye because it mentions the “Winston Street Branch Library.” Even when street names change, buildings named for those streets often don’t. However, in this case, the website discusses the history of the library, and the Winston Street Elementary School. According to the website, the library “became a part of the Huntsville Public Library (now Huntsville-Madison County Public Library) in 1943. In 1947, the branch was renamed the Dulcina DeBerry Library.” Perhaps the street was renamed at that time as well.
Jumping back into Google Earth I entered “Winston Street Branch Library” in the search box, and was immediately taken to the location, which is just south of the other two known addresses! At this point I would recommend to Alvie, who is a Genealogy Gems Premium Member, to watch my video class Best Websites for Finding Historical Mapsto track down additional maps from the time frame that may have Winston Street clearly marked on the map.
Once I identified this landmark, I then marked the location with a placemark. You can turn off the 1940 enumeration district map overlay by unchecking the box next to it in the Places Panel. Doing this revealed the location on the modern day map. Finally, I headed to the Layers panel and clicked the box next to the “Roads” overlay to reveal the modern day street names.
You can use this technique when you have more success than I did in finding an old address on an old map. Overlay the map, position a placemark on the location, and then turn the overlay off. With one click of the Roads layer you can now see the current street name for the old location you found on the map overlay.
Further digging online did deliver additional maps from the era and area:
We all have locations in our family history that have given way over time to new buildings and parking lots. By using the power of Google Earth, Google search, and historic maps, they don’t have to be lost forever.
Get Started with Google Earth for Genealogy
Learn all these Google skills–with step-by-step tutorials and video demonstrations–in Lisa’s book and Google Earth video tutorial. Click here for a special price on the bundle!
The Periodical Source Index known as PERSI is a subject index of an amazing array of genealogy and local history articles published by subject experts in newsletters and periodicals from all over the world. Discover bible records, source materials, ancestor charts, transcriptions of original records, and much more.
Search PERSI and you just may find out that you don’t have a genealogical brick wall after all. We’ll show you how! My guest, Allison Singelton, Acting Genealogy Services Manager at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN will guide you through:
where to find PERSI,
the best way to search PERSI,
and how to obtain copies of PERSI articles.
Video and show notes below:
Watch the Video:
How to Use PERSI like a PRO!
My guest: Allison Singleton, Acting Genealogy Services Manager at the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
What is the Periodical Subject Index known as PERSI?
(00:59) Allison: PERSI, the periodical source index is an index that we create in-house. It indexes periodicals (of genealogical value) from all over the world. These are periodicals such as newsletters, quarterlies, they could be anything from genealogical society publications, special interest group publications, surname or family society publications, or ethnic society publications. So, it’s a little bit of everything.
We are indexing the titles of those articles. It’s a subject index, and it’s full of amazing pieces of information that a lot of people don’t have access to from home otherwise. We’re able to take that information published by people in the locations where these publications are from, people with specific knowledge, that dive into a topic really deep. They’re the experts, the subject experts, and you’re able to get the information from the people who know the most, which is invaluable as researchers.
I absolutely love going through these different records. You may find Bible records, some source materials, ancestor charts, perhaps it’ll be a transcription of original records. You know, in fact, somebody actually found a transcription of records that later burned in a fire. So, that was a very exciting day, there were tears, it was awesome! So, you never know what you can find. Now, I don’t guarantee that everybody’s going to find a gem like that, but there is hope. There’s hope to break through some brick walls, maybe get some research techniques, or at least learn about some different people who are doing research on the same topics as you.
How Old are the Periodicals in PERSI?
(03:09) Lisa: Allison, a lot of these periodicals could be quite old, couldn’t they? I mean, I think about genealogy society newsletters. Those have been around well before we ever got online and started sharing information on the internet. So those included as well?
Allison: 100%. We have periodicals that go back to the 1800s. It’s pretty amazing to go through some of the results. I really enjoy being able to show someone that somebody’s already written something on their family history generations back.
How to Search PERSI
(03:51) Lisa: So, this is an index of a huge collection of genealogical articles published in a variety of Periodicals. You said it was a name index search. We’ve been talking a lot about indexing these days with the 1950 census. People are very aware that they’re going through and grabbing pieces of information out of the census and indexing them. This is sounds like it’s the same with these articles. So, we may not always necessarily search on the name of an ancestor, but rather a topic or a place, would that be fair to say?
Allison: It’s a mix. When articles are written, it’s the title of that article that is typically indexed. The exception is if somebody names an article, something like, Bones, and you don’t know exactly what that is. The indexers will put in that it’s about cemetery records. But it’s basically just going to go by the titles of those articles.
Not all of us have articles written specifically about our ancestors. I recommend doing not just a surname search, but also a location search, and topic search. There’s a lot of different types of searches you can do. We can dive a little bit deeper into that later, and folks are welcome to contact us for assistance. We would love to talk to anyone who wants to dive into PERSI a little bit deeper.
Lisa: The Genealogy Center is a specialty section of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. You guys have an extensive genealogy website we’ve talked about here at Genealogy Gems.Tell us about specifically what we’re going to find at the Genealogy Center website. How do we access PERSI and do these searches that you’re talking about?
Where is the PERSI Webpage?
(05:38) Allison: If you go to our website at GenealogyCenter.org, there is a green button on the left-hand side called Our Resources. Once you click on that, there are two options: Free Databases and On-Site Databases. Free Databases are the ones that you can access from anywhere in the world at any time of the day. Click on that link, then scroll down the menu and click on Periodical Source Index (PERSI).
Best Way to Begin Your PERSI Search
(06:09) Lisa: On the PERSI search page we see a lot of different options. Where do you typically start? Does it depend on what your genealogy question and plan is? Or do you have one favorite kind of starting place for your searches?
Allison: It depends on what my research question is. Typically, I do you like to do a Surname search first, just to see if I’m lucky enough to find an article for the surname I’m looking for. You never know what can pop up.
PERSI Search Strategy: Use Synonyms
(06:47) Once I’ve finished with that, I then go to the Location and start diving a little bit deeper. I’m usually looking for an event, so I want to search for all the different search terms that I can think of that surround that specific event. For example, if I’m looking for a Death Event, I’m going to look up the words death,died, burial, funeral, probate, wills cemetery, anything that has to do with a surrounding a death event. Don’t just search one word. Articles can come up under anything the author thought of to call it and some of them get pretty clever, which is interesting, but unhelpful.
How to Get a Copy of a PERSI Article
(07:41) Lisa: Well, you’ve really whetted our appetite for these really one-of-a-kind kinds of articles that are over at PERSI. How do we get access to the article once we found it in the index?
Allison: That is the beautiful part, you have multiple options.
Contact the Publisher
The first option would be to contact the publisher. I recommend going to the source when you want something. And many times, if you contact a publisher, especially if it’s a smaller periodical, or even a local one, you might be able to just find it online. Perhaps they’ve been digitizing their own periodical. Or perhaps someone would give you a copy. Sometimes there’s a nominal fee.
Search the title in WorldCat
Another option is to search the periodical title in WorldCat. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an excellent research tool for genealogists. It’s a worldwide library card catalog. You can find where a local copy of a periodical would be, and maybe get an interlibrary loan or go to your local library where they have it.
Order from the Genealogy Center
Last, but not least, you can order it from us. There is a nominal fee, and you do get to fill out a form. We will fill your request as quickly as we can but give us about four to six weeks.
Digging Deeper with PERSI Search Strategies
(09:00) Lisa: You’ve given us a fantastic overview. Let’s dig a bit more into PERSI at the Genealogy Center website.
Allison: As I mentioned, the first thing that I typically do is start with a surname search. Something that I think is really interesting is when you have a name, which is a common word. So, one of the examples I like to give, it’s actually a surname that one of my colleague’s searches, Church. When you search church in things like newspapers, you get every church known to man building-wise or denomination, not surnames. The beautiful part of this database is it actually brings up the surnames.
Lisa: Fantastic! We don’t have to slog our way through all those other common words. It knows we’re looking for a surname.
Allison: Exactly! And then once you’re in here, you can search within the results. But if you do the search at the top of the page under the results, it will come up with anything that’s in the title of the article, the periodical, or the publisher. So, if you put in a location, such as Ohio, saying you only want results for Ohio, it’s also going to bring up Ohio if it appears in the name of the publisher. So perhaps it is something you’re looking for, or perhaps not.
Lisa: You mentioned that not everything is indexed in these articles. It’s really like you picked the top pieces of information that we would need in order to search the title, the year, and the publisher, so we’re not going to be doing a lot of just keyword searching.
Allison: Correct. You’re going to be looking for information in the article title. You’re looking for the events that your ancestor was involved in, or occupations, or you’re looking for anything that could have impacted your ancestors’ lives. The wonderful thing about periodicals is a lot of times they can add more of that story to your family tree.
Where are the PERSI articles held?
Lisa: I see an article mentioning Abigail Church Witchcraft Case. It came out of a periodical published in 1924. Is this something you would have on your shelf at the Genealogy Center?
Allison: Yes. The result includes our call number, which tells you exactly where to find it in our library.
A Fourth Option for Obtaining PERSI Articles
(12:44) Lisa: I don’t see anything clickable in the search result. Tell folks again how we get them the article this is referring to.
Allison: We offer the three options I mentioned before: contacting the publisher, searching WorldCat, or ordering from our library. There’s always the fourth option of looking to see if it’s been digitized online. Since the Abigail Church article was published in 1924, there is a good possibility that it might be online somewhere. You can Google search the title of the article and that might bring it up. But the first thing I would do is contact the publisher, Ohio History Connection, and see if they have the periodical available either online or could send you a copy. The next thing I would do is take the title of the periodical copy it and put it into WorldCat to see if it’s available in a location near you. You can simply enter your little zip code at WorldCat, and it will list the holding libraries in the order they are closest to you.
Lisa: That’s just such a great tool.
Allison: It really is! Now if you wanted to order it from us, which you definitely can, there is a link on the results page to order articles. It’s going to bring you to a PDF form, and you get to fill this out and then send it to us via email. It does say that there’s a charge, it doesn’t necessarily need to be prepaid. If you want to prepay it, you’re welcome to. Our address isn’t on this specific form, but you can find our address on our website pretty easily. The most important thing is to fill out the form with the information and know that there is a $7.50 charge for the form. You will be billed an additional 20 cents per copy page. It does take quite some time to pull the articles and then make the copies. Everything is done by hand. It’s not digitized.
Lisa: And will we receive a digital copy, like a PDF? Or do you actually mail us the paper copy?
Allison: It depends on what you would like. I would recommend noting that you would like it via email or a paper copy.
Lisa: And also, I noticed on that form, there’s a spot for several articles. So, since we were going to pay the $7.50, we might want to take a second to see if there are any other articles we want. The form allows us to order several for that one price, right?
Allison: Yes, it’s $7.50 for this entire form which includes up to six articles. The requests are filled in the order that they’re received. We work hard to ensure your order is accurate, and you’re getting the information that you are seeking. In fact, we look to see if there are additional pages that are not included in the article title that are applicable to what you request. So, we are definitely trying to make sure that every customer gets the information that they are seeking.
Lisa: And at the library, you have the advantage of looking at the original, the paper copy, not just in a database, so you can do that little extra search.
I really liked your idea of the Google search. I actually did that with one of the articles I found in PERSI, and discovered that the item was fully digitized over at the Internet Archive. I was able just to go ahead and see it in the moment, which was really neat.
Google Searching for PERSI Articles
Allison: Yes, and I highly recommend that. All you have to do is highlight the article title and copy it. Next, paste that title into Google and see what comes up. If you don’t get a result right away, you can try putting quotations around the title to search it exactly. It’s always worth it to do a search and see if you can find it online for free.
More Strategic Searches at PERSI
(18:03) Lisa: You’ve been at the genealogy center quite some time, and you’ve seen so many of these periodicals. Help the genealogists really fully grasp what the potential is here. How we should be thinking about searching. I’m guessing we’re not always going to be really hyper-focused on our individual ancestor, but we’re going to think about them in the context of their life and see if there’s an article that touches on that. Tell us a little bit about how to strategize.
Allison: Sure, there’s a couple of ways to do it. I prefer to go into the location database and look specifically where they lived. We usually know where our ancestors were, even if it’s just the state. I would search the county and state when possible. Next you’ll get categories that you can look through. You can then see which ones larger and which ones are smaller. In my search History is the category with the largest number of results. Look for things that really stand out. Perhaps I’m looking for World War II information. I would want to click on that topic and then kind of go down and see if it looks like there is a periodical that was published in Fort Wayne.
Lisa: I imagine that when you do find something, let’s say we find an article that really just hits the mark, it tells us the periodical it was published in which might be an opportunity for finding even more in that same periodical. You can just search by publisher?
Allison: Yes, you can search by a publisher, you can search by the year, and you can search for the periodical. So, let’s say we found a ton of what we need from The Beacon. We can just search that publication. There are 323 entries from the Beacon from that total of 370 that we started with.
Lisa: I notice that as you type the results automatically updated.
Allison: Yes, it automatically updates. So, if I want to search for articles on medical topics I just start typing medical in the title. I get four different results. Well, medical is a good keyword, but I might also want to search on Red Cross. You need to be kind of creative with your searching.
Lisa: And I see that it again updates as you type. So, you’re actually kind of testing out med,medic, medical as keywords as you’re typing.
Allison: Yes, I don’t even have to finish the word and I start getting results. Just start playing around with the different terms that you can think of surrounding your ancestors’ lives.
Demystifying the Periodical Subject Index (PERSI)
(24:05) Lisa: I think about how many people have at some point heard about PERSI but then got a little intimidated. They weren’t quite sure how it was going to help, and then when the get to the website they weren’t quite sure how they were going to find what they wanted. Give us your final elevator pitch on why they should invest the time and try the PERSI search engine.
Allison: PERSI is constantly updated. We have around 3 million subject entries and that number is going up. We are constantly adding more information. It’s a database that you’re going to want to search periodically from time to time to see what pieces of information might be there for your ancestors.
We’ve already built the framework for our family trees with the names and dates and places. We want to add more to that. We want to add more of the meat to our family by adding new stories. Our ancestors lived amazing lives, and hopefully searching PERSI can help you find some of those stories. And you know, if you’re looking for ancestors who are proving to be elusive, occasionally you can find information in PERSI that has been previously thought lost.
Lisa: That is such a great point. It’s really not a brick wall, until you’ve made your way to the Allen County Public Library website and the Genealogy Center to check PERSI.
We probably spend more time staring at our web browser than we do staring into the eyes of our loved ones. Since that’s the case, wouldn’t it be nice to be looking at a browser tab that not only makes you more productive but also inspires you? Well, you can and today I’ll show you how in the Chrome browser.
Plain Jane Chrome Browser Tabs
Normally when I click the plus sign on the right end of my browser tabs it opens a new tab that isn’t much to look at:
(Image above: Clicking the Plus sign opens a new browser tab.)
Well, recently I have been customizing the “New Tab” on my Chrome web browser, and the results have been helpful and enjoyable.
Now I find myself smiling each time I open a new browser tab. There, looking back at me, are ancestors. They are happily picnicking in a meadow under shady trees. They look relaxed in their white cotton shirts, sleeves casually rolled up, and glass bottled soda in hand.
(Image above: Chrome new browser tab with custom image.)
This sepia tone photo was taken early in the 20th century. It not only inspires me to keep up the genealogical search I am on, but also to take a chill pill when I hit a stubborn research brick wall.
Keep reading and I’ll show you how to add your own custom image to Chrome’s New tab.
Benefits of Customizing Chrome’s New Tab
My NewTab features more than just an old family photo. It also increases the speed of my online navigation by serving up the websites I need and use most often.
Notice the website shortcut icons I’ve added to the bottom of the page (image below.) With one click I’m on my way to search for historic newspapers at the Library of Congress Chronicling America website, or peruse the latest records at MyHeritage.
(Image above: Website shortcuts)
Customizing the New tab on your Chrome web browser can also increase your search speed.
Notice the suggested related searches that fall between the search query box and the customized website shortcuts. Google has the ability to suggest additional searches based on my most recent previous search.
(Image above: Related searches suggested in Chrome’s New Tab.)
So why would this be beneficial?
Envision yourself conducting a Google search for a particular record collection. You receive the search results, and several look promising. You may even click through to one of those results and start reviewing the page. But as you read, it occurs to you that there may be a better way to state your query that could deliver better results. Or perhaps you wonder if you’re using the best terminology.
Rather than losing the search you’ve already run (and that website you’ve already started reading), you open a New web browser tab. With a customized New Tab, Google will start you out with some suggestions for additional searches. These aren’t just random. Google takes into account the most popular type of searches on the topic and the terminology or keywords that it has determined would retrieve good results.
Is it perfect? No. But suggested related searches can give you a jump start, and lead you to results you might not have otherwise found.
Google’s Customization versus a Browser Extension
Now before I show you how to customize your New Tab, you may be wondering why I’m not just using a browser extension to do the customization.
Yes, there are a variety of Chrome browser extensions that allow you to change the New Tab page. But the answer to this question comes down to security. Browser extensions have the potential to leak your private information. It’s always best to stick with the Google customizations if possible.
Since we don’t spend that much time on the New Tab page, the features we are about to customize should be all we need. However, if you decide to use a browser extension, I encourage you to do your homework to do your best to determine if the extension is trustworthy.
How to Add Your Own Image to the Chrome Browser New Tab
Probably the most difficult part about customizing the background of the New Tab is selecting the photo!
I spent more time on picking my photo than I did actually setting it up. But don’t fret too long about it. It’s so easy to change the image that you can change it on a daily basis and rotate images if you just can’t make up your mind. Let’s get started:
1. Click the Plus sign
At the top of your browser, click the plus (+) sign on the far right to open a New TabYou can also open a New Tab by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + T.
And here’s a tip: Keep the tab that this article appears in open so that you can easily jump back and forth between the instructions and the customization page.
2. Click the Customize button
You’ll find the Customize button in the bottom right corner of the page.
(Image above: On the New Tab, click the Customize button.)
3.Upload the image
Select Background and click Upload from device:
(Image above: Upload image to the Chrome browser)
4. Find the Image
An Open dialog box will pop-up. Navigate to the desired image on your hard drive.
(Image above: Navigate in the “Open” dialogue box to the image that you want to use as your custom New Tab background.)
5. Select and open the image
Click to select the image and click the Open button. The image will now fill the screen. Don’t worry, you haven’t uploaded your photo into the public Google search engine. You are only customizing your Google account, and only you can see the photo.
Landscape images work the best for the New Tab page background. If you have a Portrait shaped photo, try cropping it to more of a landscape shape before uploading.
(Image above: Chrome new browser tab with uploaded image.)
If you want to change it back to plain or swap photos, simply click the customize icon in the bottom right corner that looks like a pencil.
How to Add Shortcuts to the NewTab
Now that you have your family looking back at your from your New browser tab, let’s add shortcuts to your favorite websites.
1. Click the Plus sign
Click the “Add Shortcut” plus sign beneath the search field.
2. Add the name and URL
Open a new tab, navigate to the desired web site, and then copy the URL in the address bar. Go back to the tab with the customization page, and in the Edit Shortcut window, type the name of the website, and paste the URL you just copied.
(Image above: type in the website name and URL.)
3. Click the Done button
Once you click the Done button, you will see your new shortcut below the search field.
Repeat the process to add additional website shortcuts.
5. Edit Shortcuts
If you want to change one of the shortcuts that you’ve added, hover your mouse over it and click the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of the icon.
(Image above: Hover your mouse over the shortcut and click the three vertical dots to edit.)
Then you will have the option to edit or remove the shortcut.
(Image above: Edit shortcut dialogue box.)
Related Search Prompts on Chrome’s New Tab
As I mentioned earlier in this article, Google will provide related search suggestions when you open a new tab. You fill find them between the search query box and the shortcuts.
These can be helpful in providing you additional keywords worth searching. Google bases these prompts on what people usually search for. Here’s an example of the related searches that appeared when I searched for Historic Newspapers:
(Image above: Related searches suggested in Chrome’s New Tab.)
These search suggestions will change as you search for different things using Google.
How to Remove Related Search Prompts
Not everyone appreciates Google’s efforts to be helpful. If you would rather see more of your background photo and not the related search prompts, they are easy to remove.
Simply click on the three vertical dots just to the upper right of the prompts:
(Image above: Click the three vertical dots.)
In the pop-up balloon you have two options:
Don’t Show This Topic tells Google not to show the topic appearing on the tab again. In my example, I would not use this because I expect to be searching for historic newspapers again in the future. But if my search were just a one time thing, or the search prompts were completely irrelevant, then I would let Google know I don’t want to see this topic in the future by selecting this option.
Never Show Suggestions tells Google to never show suggestions on the New Tab again.
Make your changes in the pop-up balloon.
How to Return to the New Tab Default Settings
I love having a customized New Tab to greet me each time I click the plus button. However, there may be a time when, for whatever reason, you will want to return the New Tab to its original state. That’s easy enough to do! Here’s how to remove or change the background image:
Click the pencil icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. This will take you back into Customize mode.
If you don’t want any background image, click No Background. If you would like something completely different, you can also select from a collection of photos provided by Google:
To remove the background image, select Background > No Background
In this same pop-up dialogue box you can also remove your shortcuts in one swoop. Click Shortcuts and then Hide Shortcuts, and then click Done:
More Googly Ideas
I hope you’ve enjoyed this simple way to spice up Chrome’s New browser tab. You’ll find tons of exciting ideas on how to use Google more effectively for genealogy and family history in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.
Boost your Google search skills with this free video class on Google for genealogy, presented at RootsTech 2016 by Google expert Lisa Louise Cooke.
“Everyone should be using Google to search for their family history!” That’s Lisa Louise Cooke’s mantra. Google reaches deep into so many different kinds of content on the internet. Google search tools help us discover ancestors’ names mentioned online; locate records we need; and discover historical details, images and maps that help us better understand their lives. And Google is FREE.
But Google works best when you follow a well-executed search methodology, just like in other aspects of genealogy research. At RootsTech 2016, Lisa taught a powerful and popular Google search for genealogy methodology class to a packed audience in a session that live-streamed around the world. Watch her dynamic, informative class below for free. Kim wrote in to say that the class “was the best one I’ve seen thru the free streaming [RootsTech]….Thanks for sharing free content with those of us who can’t afford to spend any money on genealogy.”
This class content comes from Lisa’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox (2nd edition). In it you’ll find all you need to know to take your hit-and-miss online searches to a powerful, proven search methodology for finding your ancestors online–and everything else you’re looking for! There are step-by-step instructions, screenshots and powerful examples for topics such as basic and advanced Google searching, Google Books, Google Earth, Google Scholar, Google Alerts, Google Translate and even YouTube.
More Google for Genealogy Gems
Keep learning from Lisa! Click below to read more proven Google search methodologies for genealogy.
Show Notes: Google Books is known for having millions of free digitized books. But did you know that it’s also packed with hidden old newspapers? Since newspapers don’t typically appear in your initial search results in Google Books, I’ll show you two ways to filter down to only newspapers. Plus I’ll also show you some of the most effective ways to quickly find the right ancestor and the right article.
Old newspapers are a tremendous resource for family history information. One of the most surprising places that you can find old newspapers is Google Books. However, newspapers don’t typically show up in the general searches we run at Google Books. It’s important to use specific strategies designed to effectively and find what you’re looking for.
We typically think of Google Books as a place where you look for books. However, we really need to change our thinking on that. Think of Google Books as a place to find printed material. At Google Books you could find not only books, but printed newspapers, catalogs, almanacs, magazines, anything that would have been published on paper. Google Books catalogs all the printed material it finds, and digitizes that which isn’t under copyright restrictions. That means that it’s more common to find older newspapers, books and so on that are digitized and searchable.
Dealing with Too Many Results
I love finding articles like this one about my husband’s grandfather, Raymond H. Cooke.
You can find newspaper articles like this at Google Books.
Newspapers clearly offer a lot more than just obituaries. You may be able to find all kinds of articles on what was going on in their life and their community.
We start searching at the Google Books homepage. There are a couple of different ways to find Google Books. You can just google Google Books, or you can go directly to the URL https://books.google.com/.
At Google Books, you can start by typing in an ancestor’s name such as Raymond H. Cooke, or topic of interest. What you will typically see is a list of books, many fairly recent, but no newspapers. In fact there will be typically be an abundance of results, many of which are not a good match. But don’t worry, we can improve these results.
Better Newspaper Results with Quotes
One of the easiest ways to fix this situation is to go back up to the search box and put quotes around the full name. This tells Google Books that I want this exact phrase (name), spelled the way I spelled it. This prevents us from getting results that contain the words but not within the context as a whole name. It also ensures that Cooke will be spelled with an “e”. Without the quotes we get too many non-matching results. Most included one or more of the words, often separate from each other, and some weren’t even spelled the way I spelled the name.
As you can see, using quotes is very effective at reducing unwanted results. However, we can do even more to improve newspaper search results at Google Books.
You’ll notice that most of the results you receive are books, some of which may be digitized and some that are not. What you don’t see typically are newspapers. So, our next strategy will fix this and give us only newspaper results.
Filtering to Only Newspaper Results
It might seem logical just to add the word newspaper to your search query. However, this doesn’t work. Google looks for the words in the text of the material. It doesn’t look at the word newspapers and understand that it’s a type of material.
However, Google Books does give us ways to filter results down to only newspapers. On the search results page you will see a filter menu below the main menu of tabs. If you don’t see it, click the Tools button.
Notice that Any Document is one of the filters. That means that right now our results are showing all types of documents that meet our search criteria including books, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, etc. Click that drop-down menu and select Newspapers. This will display only newspaper in the search results.
At the top of the results list you’ll see exact matches to your query. Sometimes, if there aren’t a lot of matches, Google will then remove the quotes you used, and show you additional results that match without quotes. So several pages of matches doesn’t always mean that they all match exactly. But the good news is, all the exact matches will display first.
Search Name Variations
My example of searching for “Raymond H. Cooke” is very specific. In order to find all the possible articles that mention Raymond, I will need to expand my search to include the name variations that might appear in the papers. Here are just a few examples:
“R. H. Cooke”
“Raymond H. Cook” (because it’s very possible a spelling error could be made in the newspaper)
Another Way to Filter to Only Newspapers
Google Book’s Advanced Search is another way to filter down specifically to newspapers. It’s not as easy to find or use as the Tools menu, but it can prove very helpful.
There isn’t a link to Advanced Search on the Google Books home page. There are three ways to get to it.
The easiest way to find the Advanced Search page for the Google Books is simply to google it.
#3 Any Google Books Catalog Page
The Advanced Search link appears in the search box on the catalog page of all items in Google Books. To find the page, run a search (it doesn’t matter what item you search for) and click the book or other item to open it. If the item is “full view” or “preview” you’ll need to close it. You can do that in the most recent version of the Google Books user interface by clicking the X in the top right corner of the page. This will then display the catalog page for the item, and you’ll see the Advanced Search link in the search field.
The Advanced Search page provides you with a special form. You can use this to run your search as well. You can type the names or phrases that you want to be exact in the Exact Phrase field. Best of all, in the Content section you can click the button for Newspapers to filter your results only to newspapers.
So already, we’re quickly finding newspapers within this massive catalog of over 25 million items in Google Books. I have a few more suggestions of ways to find what you’re looking for in newspapers specifically.
Adding Location to Search
If you want to be look for ancestors in Google Books, it really helps to add a location.
When you look at the search results, you’ll notice that it doesn’t give you a location in the result’s short descriptive paragraph (called a snippet). That makes it a little more challenging to be able to figure out if the items is talking about the right person. Where our ancestors lived is part of what sets them apart from everyone else by the same name. The result usually doesn’t tell us even where the newspaper was published. Try adding the name of your ancestor’s town, county or state to your search query.
Adding Timeframe to Search
While the snippets on the results page show the date of the item, we might have a lot of items to look through. It would be nice to narrow it down to items published during your ancestor’s lifetime. It’s not to say that there might not be a newspaper article published after an ancestor’s death, but it can help to start by first just searching during their lifetime.
On the initial results page, make sure the Tools filter menu it turned on. You’ll find Anytime in the filter menu next to Any Document. Click the Anytime drop-down menu. Here you can select a century. Click Custom Range and enter the years. For example, 1865 to 1930. This will filter your results list down to newspapers published between those years. It’s another great way to filter out results for other people with the same name who didn’t live at the same time. Filtering for both timeframe and the location can really help you zero in on the right person.
The Source of the Newspapers at Google Books
Google Books has not always had newspapers as part of their collection. The digitized newspapers found there today come from the old Google News Archive. This was a newspaper digitization project that was discontinued several years ago. In the last few years they’ve been adding the collection to Google Books. And now with the new Google Books user interface, they are easier to search and use than ever before.
The old Google News Archive can be found at https://news.google.com/newspapers. This old website can come in handy if you’re not sure if Google Books has the issues that you need of a particular newspaper title.
Start by going to https://news.google.com/newspapers and click the letter at the top of the screen that corresponds to the first letter of the first word in the title of the newspaper. For example, if you want to check to see if they have The Lawrence Daily Gazette, and if so which issues, you would click “L”. If you find the newspaper the website will also tell you how many issues are in the collection and what dates they cover. Then you can head to Google Books and search on the title.
It’s possible that Google may have added additional issues since the old Google News Archive closed. You can check this at Google Books by searching on the title and using the Any Time filter to specify the years.
Start Searching for Newspapers at Google Books
Now you can find newspapers at Google Books quickly and efficiently. I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know about the article that you find!