Show Notes: How to use Google site search to search a website that doesn’t have a good search engine, or doesn’t have one at all. Google’s Site Search will help you find exactly what you need! This tip comes from the hour-long Premium Membership “Elevenses with Lisa” video called 5 Genealogy Search Hacks. Premium Members can download the exclusive cheat sheet PDF on the show notes page.
Watch the Video
Use Google’s Site search to dig into websites:
- that don’t have a search feature,
- that have a search feature that’s not great,
- or to double-check that you found everything at that site.
Essentially, you can use Google Site search as a custom search engine for a specific website.
For example, USGenWeb is a free genealogy website that has been around for a long time and has a vast number of pages and content. There isn’t a search box on the home page, but you can click Search & Site Map in the menu. However, you’ll notice that their search engine is powered by a third party called FreeFind which has been around since 1998. Because it’s free and a third party, the search field is definitely not secure. Since that’s the case, you might as well use the largest and most powerful search engine in the world, Google, to search to run your search instead. Google’s site search is the way to do that.
A note about websites like USGenWeb: Make sure that you are searching the correct website.
Notice the URL for the USGenWeb website: https://usgenweb.org/index.html. Click the desired state on the map on the home page. Now, look at the URL again.
Example: Indiana http://ingenweb.org/
Notice that it’s actually a different website. Each state has the two-letter state abbreviation at the beginning of the URL. Use the state address when conducting a site search.
Example Search: If I wanted to find all mentions of a surname in the state, my site search would look like this:
You can use the Google search operators listed in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox to be even more specific about what you want to find.
Ancestry’s new site is now available to all U.S. users–across browsers, mobile devices, and the PC/Mac divide. It’s more than just a cosmetic or branding overhaul. The way Ancestry explains it, many changes boil down to helping users find family stories and improving their mobile experience. And while using the new site is still optional (see below), there are good reasons to start using it now. Mostly because the old site will be going away–possibly along with data you enter in it from this point forward. Many users adapt without much thought; for others, these changes are painful.
“The new Ancestry experience was based on extensive research of problems our users are facing and their current needs,” states an FAQ on Ancestry. “We surveyed and interviewed thousands of users and found that new and long-time users wanted to be able to find and write their family stories. Based on this information we decided to provide more powerful storytelling features (LifeStory), coupled with tools to make research easier (updated Facts view) as well as organize media efficiently (Gallery)….Also, “the new experience was designed to work better across all mobile devices. You’ll be able to see the media gallery, Historical Insights, and LifeStory, too. More improvements for the mobile experience are planned.”
If you’ve been using Story View, the news is mixed. The new LifeStory feature is the next generation of Story View and “is better integrated into the overall profile page.” But Story View is going away–and as of June 1, “if you edit a Story View, the information will not be changed in the new LifeStory.” Also, the current FAQ says that Ancestry still hasn’t decided whether to transfer data from the Story View to the LifeStory.
Ancestry expert Crista Cowan explains the updated Facts view in the new Ancestry site: “Just like before, you will find the facts you’ve discovered and entered about the life of a person in your tree running down the page like a timeline. You will also find that the parents, spouse and children of the person are on the right-hand side of the page just where they have always been. The big change you will discover is that the sources that support those facts and relationships are now front and center.” Read more from her blog post here. The comments on that post and on the original announcement are great places to read the mixed opinions about the new site.
Below is Ancestry’s video about the new site:
Users can currently opt in or out of the new site (click Classic Site or New Ancestry on the username drop-down menu), but that option will go away soon. If you’re still on the fence about using the new site, read Ancestry’s FAQs about the changes, especially those that affect what changes you make from this point forward. Here’s a detailed list of the planned feature roll-outs, along with the estimated dates for them.
Have you backed up your Ancestry tree lately? It’s a good idea to do it regularly. We found ourselves reminding people how to do this recently in the wake of news that Ancestry may go up for auction. Read our how-to post here.
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 39 Show Notes
Elevenses with Lisa is our little slice of heaven where friends get together for tea and talk about the thing that never fails to put a smile on our face: Genealogy!
Are you ready for a year of successful genealogy? Learn how to develop an effective research plan, and preserve and protect your genealogy. Keep reading for the show notes that accompany this video.
10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success
1. Have you selected a place to start?
I started learning how to play the guitar in 2020. I began with an online course to learn the basics, and I picked one song that I really wanted to learn how to play.
For three months I worked my way through the course and played that song over and over every day. This resulted in two things: I learned how to play the song, and my husband took a blow torch to my guitar! (Just kidding.)
At the end of those three months I had several weeks where I just didn’t feel I was making any progress at all. I practiced every day, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.
It turns out that I had reached my initial goals – I knew the most popular chords, had memorized the Pentatonic Scale and could play the song Crazy On You for a captive audience in my home. However, I had not stopped to identify my next set of goals. Therefore, stagnation set in.
In an effort to restart my learning and success trajectory, I spent an evening looking through my record collection and I made a list of 6 of my favorite songs. Then I put them in the order I wanted to learn to play them. Most importantly, I identified which one was my top priority to learn. Once I did that, I knew exactly how I was going to spend my practice time.
It sounds simple, but finding and deciding on the place to start (or restart) is really easy to miss. When it comes to genealogy there’s always a bright shiny object online ready to gobble up a few precious minutes, or hours, or days! Having a predetermined project goal in mind will help you get down to business faster and keep you from wandering aimlessly.
2. Have you developed a project research question?
Once you know what your project will be, it is time to formulate the general question. In other words, what is the question you are trying to answer?
In this episode I shared the family story that had been handed down the McClelland family about their ancestor Washington McClelland. The story went like this: “He immigrated to the U.S. from England. He was working on the railroad when he met a girl in Idaho. She became pregnant. They married. He converted to the LDS church. They raised a family together.”
The general research question was “is this story true?” That’s a big question, and one that we’ll break down further in question #3.
Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about formulating research questions by watching the segment How Alice the Genealogist Avoids the Rabbit Hole Part 1 in Elevenses with Lisa Episode 2. It’s available in the Premium Videos area of the Genealogy Gems website. Don’t miss the downloadable handout! You’ll find the link under the video. (Learn more about becoming a Premium Member here.)
3. Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
The general project question can usually be broken down into several bite-sized actionable questions. In the example of “Is the story about Washington McClelland true?” we can break that question down into several questions:
- Where exactly was Washington from in England?
- When did he come to the United States?
- Why/how did he end up out West?
- Did he work on the railroad?
- When and where did he marry?
- When was their oldest child born?
- Did he join the LDS church?
And many of these questions can likely be broken down further. These more focused question help provide the framework for the project’s research plan. They can then be re-sorted so that they follow a logical progression of answers.
The next step will then be to identify and prioritize the sources (records) that are likely to provide the necessary relevant evidence. Then determine the order in which you will locate each identified record. Finally, add where you think you can find the records to the plan.
4. Do you have the research forms you need?
There are many different types of genealogy research forms: research logs, blank record forms, checklists, just to name a few.
Research logs are great for keeping track of your research plan progress. Blank record forms (such a blank 1900 U.S. Federal Census form) are very handy for transcribing the pertinent information for analysis. And checklists (such as a list of all types of death records) help ensure that you don’t miss and records, and you don’t look for the same record twice!
Free Genealogy Forms at Family Tree Magazine
Family Tree Magazine offers a plethora of free genealogy forms. You’ll need to register for a free website account to download the forms.
Free Genealogy Forms at Ancestry
Here you’ll find several common and helpful genealogy forms including:
- Ancestral Chart
- Research Calendar
- Research Extract
- Correspondence Record
- Family Group Sheet
- Source Summary
- US, UK And Canadian Census Forms
5. Have you established Your Filing System?
Having an organizational system in place takes the guesswork out of where things should be filed, making it much more likely they will actually get filed. It also ensures that you’ll be able to put your hands on your records whenever you need them.
Here’s a secret: There is no one perfect filing system. The most important thing is that it makes sense to you and that you are consistent in how you use it.
In Elevenses with Lisa Episode 6 (available to Premium Members) I cover step-by-step the system I developed and have used for over 15 years. I’m happy to report I’ve never lost an item. (Whew, what a relief!)
As you work on your genealogy research you’ll find there are two important tasks you will be doing often:
- Storing items that you have not had a chance to work on yet (I refer to these pending items as “to be processed.”)
- Storing items that need to be filed. (Let’s face it, we rarely want to stop in the middle of an exciting search to file a document.)
Not having a way to store these two types of items leads to clutter and piles on your desk. Here’s my simple solution:
- Place a “to be filed” basket next to your desk.
- Create a “Pending” tab in each surname 3-ring notebook (if you use my system.) The beauty of the surname notebook Pending section is you have a place to put documents (out of sight) that are associated with a specific family. When you’re ready to work on that family line, grab the notebook and jump to the Pending section to start processing and analyzing the previously found records.
7. Do you have the supplies you need on hand?
Make sure that you have a small quantity of all of the supplies you need for the filing and organization system you are using.
Here’s what my shopping list looks like:
- 3” 3-Ring View Binders
(allow you to customize covers & spines)
- 1” 3-Ring View Binder
- 1 box of Acid-Free Sheet Protectors
- 3-Ring Binder Tab Dividers
8. Have you settled on a file naming scheme?
How to name digital genealogy files is something we all struggle with. Good intentions don’t make the job any easier. Take a few moments to nail down the basic naming scheme you will commit to follow. I say basic, because there will be times when you’ll need to modify it to suit the file. That’s OK. But always start with the basic format.
Here’s what my basic file naming format looks like:
- Year (will force chronological order)
- First Name (filed in surname folder)
Notice in my format I don’t usually include the surname. That’s because I file in surname folders. Notice that I said “usually.” That’s because we are always free to add on additional information like a surname if we think it will prove helpful. For example, if I anticipate that I will have a need to share individual files with other researchers or family members (rather than the entire folder) then I will add the surname so that the person receiving the file has the pertinent information.
8. Are you prepared to make copies?
Protecting and preserving our genealogy for generations to come is a top priority for most genealogists. All of us at some time have worried about what would happen if a website that we upload our content to goes out of business or sells out to another company. Now there is a new reason to take a few extra steps to ensure you don’t lose access to your genealogy data.
Recently, According to Buzz Feed, on Jan. 9 the largest cloud-hosting service notified a large social media network with millions of users that it would be cutting it off from its cloud hosting service. According to the Wall Street Journal, “other tech partners also acted, crippling operators.”
Now we must add to the list of concerns the possibility that a genealogy website we use might be cut off from web hosting. How might this type of action impact our personal family history that we share on websites? Many companies that provide access to millions of historical records and likely house a copy of your family tree and your DNA test results use the same cloud hosting service. In fact, it’s hard to find a company out there that isn’t tethered to it in some way.
My research showed that both Ancestry and FamilySearch have been featured on their website in case studies and blog articles:
- Ancestry Case Study
- FamilySearch mentioned in the article The Future of the Family History Industry.
The bottom line is that our family history is our responsibility to preserve and protect. While we can benefit from sharing copies of it online, putting all our genealogy eggs in only the online basket puts it at risk because we don’t have control.
While I love the idea of going paperless and I’ve been striving to do that in recent years, I’m changing my tune on this. For several years I’ve been strongly recommending that you get your own genealogy software on your own computer and use it as your master database. All online family trees are simply copies. Many people, particularly those who rely solely on FamilySearch often wondered why I was so concerned. The events of this week make my point and put an exclamation point on the end of it.
Making digital and paper copies of your data is a simple strategy you can put in place today. This means regular print outs of your tree, family group sheets, and the most important genealogical documents. I keep mine in a portable fireproof safe.
We can also make digital copies as well. For example, last year I had all my old home movies transferred to digital and they are stored on my computer. I went the extra step to get copies on DVD and I also copied the digital files onto a terabyte hard drive that is in the fireproof safe.
Remember, your computer is connected to the Internet. If you’ve ever woken up to a Windows update, then you know that tech companies can make changes to your computer. Having your own paper and digital copies are just extra insurance that certainly can’t hurt.
Here’s a checklist of things you can put in place today:
- a good printer
- extra ink
- a stock of paper
- a portable terabyte hard drive
Ideas for saving paper and ink:
- Print only the most important documents that might be more difficult to replace.
- Focus your printing on direct ancestors.
- Print in draft mode (depending on the document) and / or black and white to save ink.
- Make double-sided copies.
- When possible, add two documents to each side of the paper so that one piece of paper holds 4 documents.
9. Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?
I use and recommend Backblaze for computer cloud backup. They have their own storage facility. Here’s what their storage pods look like:
I am also an affiliate of Backblaze so I appreciate when you use my link if you decided to make a purchase. I will be compensated at no additional cost to you, and that supports this free show. https://www.backblaze.com/landing/podcast-lisa.html
Learn more: Premium Members can watch the Premium video Your Guide to Cloud Backup and download the PDF handout. You’ll get answers to questions like:
- What is cloud backup?
- Why should I use cloud backup?
- How does cloud backup work?
- Is cloud backup safe?
- What should I look for when selecting a cloud backup service?
- My personal cloud backup choice
10. Have you scheduled ongoing education time?
Pick one area you want to improve your genealogy skills and knowledge and make time each week to learn something new about it.
On the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:
- Click the Subscribe button
- Click the bell for notifications.
- Use a free service like Blogtrottr.com to receive email notification reminders. Simply paste the Genealogy Gems channel URL into the first field,
enter your email address and select from the drop-down menu how often you would like to receive notifications. Then click the orange “Feed Me” button. When I post a new video or schedule an Elevenses with Lisa episode you’ll receive an email notification.
Recap: 10 Questions to Rate Your Readiness for Genealogy Success
- Have you selected a place to start?
- Have you developed a project research question?
- Do you have a Research Plan for your genealogy project?
- Do you have the research forms you need?
- Have you established Your Filing System?
- Do you have the supplies you need on hand?
- Have you settled on a file naming scheme?
- Are you prepared to make copies?
- Is your computer backed up to the Cloud?
- Have you scheduled ongoing education time?
Elevenses with Lisa Archive
Premium Member have exclusive access to all of the archived episodes and downloadable handouts. Visit the Elevenses with Lisa Archive.
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