Google Alerts for Genealogy: “Not What They Used to Be?”
Do you ever feel like Google Alerts aren’t what they used to be? Or have you never used them? It’s time to revisit your strategy for using Google Alerts for genealogy!
Google Alerts are customized, automated Google keyword searches. You can set them up to constantly search the Internet for new mentions of your ancestors, their hometowns or anything else.
The key to Google Alerts is that they tell us about NEW material. After an initial barrage of results, you may not see anything for awhile, especially for very specific topics. Don’t get discouraged! Google Alerts are long-term strategies for finding family history. And Alerts will at least let you know as soon as someone puts something new online–which won’t happen if you just do your own searches every so often.
If you haven’t gotten results for a while, consider modifying your keyword search terms. Set up multiple searches, if you feel like that might help!
All editing of alerts is done in the Google Alerts dashboard. Here’s how to edit a Google Alert:
1. Go to Google Alerts and sign in to your account.
2. Locate the alert you want to edit in the alphabetical list and click the Edit icon that looks like a pencil (shown here).
3. Make the desired changes in the edit window.
4. When you’re done, click the Update Alert
Google Alerts offer genealogists a rare opportunity to get more done in less time. That’s why in the newest edition of my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox. I devoted an entire chapter on how to use Google Alerts effectively for genealogy. In that chapter, I suggest several different types of alerts you may want to create. For example, with what businesses, churches, schools and other organizations were your ancestors affiliated? Create alerts with their surnames and the names of these organizations. You’ll find several more suggestions in that chapter that will help you get the MOST out of Google Alerts!
How to Set Up Google Alerts for Genealogy
A Fabulous Use for Google Alerts (Finding Homes My Great-Grandfather Built) in the FREE Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 146 (listen and/or read the show notes)
Who else do you know who should be using Google Alerts? (Like, just about everyone?) Will you please share this post with them? Just copy and paste the URL into an email address or share with your favorite social media platform, like Facebook or Pinterest. Thank you!
Family History Episode 37 – Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 24, 2014
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 37: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2
Today’s show is all about YOU! Just like Episode 36, this episode is made up completely of your emailed questions, comments and stories. Joining me on today’s episode to read your emails again is my daughter, Lacey Cooke.
Question: Is there a way to get iTunes to download all of the podcasts instead of just the most recent ones? I thought I saw it on the website somewhere but now I can’t find it. –Melanie Armstrong
Answer: (updated since the podcast originally aired): In your iTunes LIBRARY, on the line where the Genealogy Gems Podcast is listed click the GET ALL button. This will download all the past episodes to iTunes on your computer, to be listened to at your convenience. Downloading will take several minutes. You will see a little spinning orange circle to the left of the podcast name as it downloads. Once the episode is downloaded the text will turn from gray to black. Double click the episode and it will start to play after a moment or two.
Question: I use the free forms at Family Tree Magazine’s website. Do you keep your old Family Group Sheets on file so you can double check them later? – R. Butler
Answer: I love all those free forms at Family Tree Magazine! I’ll tell you the truth, I decided to throw mine away. I transcribed everything into my database and threw away the paper. Everything is properly sourced there, which is key. I avoid duplicating efforts, which has happened to me when looking back at old paper forms. If I need to double-check things, I do it from the actual sources—the birth or death certificate or interview—not from the family group sheet. The only exception is if the group sheet is part of a brick wall case file that I haven’t solved yet. I keep them until the case is solved, and then the cited answers go into the database.
Question: How do you know when records/indices are complete? I have been looking for immigration records for my family and cannot find them.
They came in large family groups, so you would think it would be easy to find. Even though the name (Mauge) is often misspelled (Mange, Mauga) I cannot find them at Ellis Island, Steve Morse’s website, The National Archives or through my Ancestry.com subscription. The years span 1880 through 1885. Are these immigration records complete or am I looking in the wrong place? -Anne-Marie Eischen
Answer: There are many factors involved here, and many avenues to pursue. Based on other information you told me about your family’s arrival, here are some ideas:
- The Family History Library has microfilm of the Baltimore Passenger lists between 1920 and 1897 – and it lists the main author as the U.S. Dept of the Treasury, Bureau of Customs. Passengers are indexed by soundex and the soundex code for Mauge would be M200. But considering the variations you have found of the name you’ll want to arm yourself with the soundex codes for all those variations. The M200 names are on Film # 417302 which I found in the Family History Library catalog and familysearch.org and you can just go to your closes Family History Center and order the film for under $10 and they will send it to you to view at the center.
- Check the at the Immigrant’s Ships Transcribers Guild website.
- Click here for a great summary of Baltimore passenger lists by Joe Beine online.
- You will also find an index for Baltimore passenger lists between 1820 and 1897 at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN.
- Look closely at your source for the port information, and see if you can locate any other verification of that. Maybe she actually arrived through another port.
- Usually I would tell you to check departure lists, but in this case, departure lists for Bremen for that time period are not available.
- Here’s a great book recommendation for you: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors by Grace DeMelle.
Question: I wanted to share the results of my Google Alerts. My father had red hair and was called “Red” most of his life. So when I ask for “Red” Browning in my alerts, I have received information on the red Browning sweater (the Browning clothing line), a red Browning rifle case (they make guns) and recently the Cincinnati Reds Tom Browning went to jail (the Red’s Browning…). Alas, nothing yet on my Dad! Another family name is Gorry – you can imagine what I got last Halloween! I do love the alerts though – and have added eBay alerts too, thanks to you. Keep encouraging us and thanks for the great tips! -Joan Ketterman
Answer: I’m not sure how much I can help with that one – keep playing with the “plus” and “minus” signs in your searches to refine what you’re looking for. And I’m glad you’re using those eBay alerts. Learn more about eBay alerts in Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 140. Note: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about Google Alerts in Premium Podcast Episode 28.
Comment: On the podcast you recommended using Google Books. I have a “gem” for you….I have a link where the LDS church has archived loads of family history books: http://www.familyhistoryarchive.byu.edu. Follow the link and type in the surname of your choice. I have found some wonderful stories there about my ancestors. – Susan in West Palm Beach Florida
Note: The BYU Family History Archive she references has migrated into the Family History (Digital) Books collection at FamilySearch along with the digital book collections of other repositories/ They are now searchable at FamilySearch.org.
Question: This is just something that bugs me. WHICH is the correct pronunciation of Genealogy??? GEEN-e-alogy (with a long “e” at the beginning) or Gen-e-ology (with a short “e” at the beginning)?
Answer: I’ve heard it both ways and I’ve pronounced it both ways. But when I went to Dictionary.com, they actually have an audio pronunciation and they say, GEEN-e-alogy, with a long “e” at the beginning. However you pronounce it, it’s a barrel of fun!
Question: How can I learn more about the Freedom of Information Act?
Answer: Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 20 and Episode 21. It’s also covered in my book Genealogy Gems Ultimate Research Strategies.
Question: Hello, I just finished listening to the June Family Tree Magazine Podcast. I have been wanting to write to you for months now to ask you this question: Who is the musician playing the guitar music during the podcast? My husband is a big Chet Atkins fan and I thought it could be Chet but my husband says no just from listening to it. Can you please provide me with the musicians name? -Melissa Roberge
Listen to this episode to find out the answer!
Discover the FamilySearch Wiki WOW Factor! (Beginner Tutorial)
Show Notes: The FamilySearch Wiki is like a free encyclopedia of genealogy! In this FamilySearch Wiki tutorial, discover the wealth of information the Wiki has to offer, and learn the secrets to navigating it with ease. We’ll also cover the number #1 reason people get frustrated when searching the Wiki and how to overcome it.
Watch the Video
RootsTech has set the class video to “private”. You can watch it on their website by going to the video page in their on-demand library. You may need to sign in to your free FamilySearch account in order to watch it.
Enjoy this special free tutorial video which was originally presented at the RootsTech conference. Download the ad-free Show Notes cheat sheet for this video class. (Premium Membership required.)
What is a Wiki?
A wiki is a website that
- Allows collaborative editing platform for users
- doesn’t require HTML editing
- has links to both internal and external resource pages
- The FamilySearch Wiki is a lot like Wikipedia. It’s basically an encyclopedia of information. But the exciting part is that it’s specific to genealogy. This means you don’t usually have to worry about including the word genealogy in your searches.
What Does the FamilySearch Wiki Do?
The FamilySearch Wiki is focused on providing information for genealogy research such as:
- how to find data
- where to find data
- how to analyze and use the data
What are the sources of Wiki content?
- Original material was added from the old Family History Library research outlines.
- User added material in their areas of genealogical expertise. The Wiki is constantly being updated by LDS missionaries and other volunteers as new material is discovered or released.
Don’t worry about Contributor info.
You’re going to see many things about wiki creation and management. Not everything is relevant to you when just wanting to find information. In fact, the majority of the Help section is geared to people creating, editing and maintaining pages. Don’t worry about being a contributor. Enjoy being a user.
2 Ways to Access the FamilySearch Wiki
- Going directly to https://www.familysearch.org/wiki. Although you can sign into your free FamilySearch account on this page (in the upper right corner) it isn’t necessary in order to use it.
- Logging in at the FamilySearch website. In the menu under Search click Research Wiki. By logging in and you’ll have access to additional features like participating in discussions, posting and creating watchlists.
The FamilySearch Wiki focuses on records, not ancestors.
Keep in mind that the purpose of the Wiki is to explain where genealogical materials are located and how to get access to them. The Wiki does not have individual ancestor information. If you want to find records, start by deciding specifically what kind of records you want. Identify when and where the ancestor lived at the time the record was created. Then head to the Wiki to figure out what records are available and where they can be found.
The Wiki links to:
- Materials that available at FamilySearch.org or any other online genealogy website.
- Materials that are not available at FamilySearch.org or any other online genealogy site.
- Materials that were previously unknown or newly made available online.
- Strategies and techniques for finding and researching genealogical records.
Types of Searches
Topic Search: When searching for information on a specific topic such as probate records, type the topic into the Search box. As you type, a list of pages with the topic word or words in the title appears below the Search box. If one of the listed pages is the desired topic, highlight and press enter. If you don’t pick from the drop-down list you will get a results list of every page that includes the topic.
Vital records Search: FamilySearch recommends using the Guided Search for info on vital records.
Location Search in the search box: When only the name of any country, state in the U.S., province in Canada, or county in England is typed in the Search box you will be taken directly to that Wiki page. For example: If Texas is searched the result is the Texas, United States Genealogy page.
Page Title: If you happen to know the exact title of the Wiki article you want, type it in the Search Box.
How to Overcome the #1 Search Problem
Many people will search for something like marriage records, Randolph, County, Indiana, and they will get a list of results. The results don’t look as clear-cut as Google results, and they may not all be on topic. This is where we can get lost. I think probably the number one reason why people give up on the wiki is they get these kinds of search results. They realize, wait a second, this isn’t even Indiana, it’s talking about Kentucky! Why am I getting all these? It can be frustrating.
This happens because we tried to do it ourselves, with our own keywords. Remember, like most search engines, they’ve indexed their content to make it searchable, so that means they’ve already decided how they want to talk about a particular topic. Rather than just addressing marriage record first, the wiki focuses on the location. Where is this marriage record? So, focus first on the place unless you are just looking for general information on a general genealogy topic such as genealogy software.
Pre-filled suggestions will appear as you type because the wiki is going to suggest what it has in the format it has it. Again, you may want to first go to the country, state or county-level page and then look for the record type.
If you’re looking for marriage records but you don’t see them listed it might be that the word marriage isn’t the keyword the wiki uses. Or it might be that the type of record you’re looking for is a state or federal record.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see what you want listed in the table of contents. It may just be a keyword issue. Let the work that they’ve already done in organizing their materials guide you. You’ll be more successful and also avoid frustration. The FamilySearch Wiki is just too good of a resource to miss.
The FamilySearch Wiki Search box
You can run three main types of searches:
- Single key words,
- and search strings.
Resource: Wiki Search Help Page
- Quotes: Odd Fellows – 49 results versus “Odd Fellows” – 32 results
- Minus sign
- Word stemming applies: car will also find cars
- subpageof:”Requests for comment”
- Numrange doesn’t work on the wiki
- Use Google site search to search using Google’s engine and search operators!
Generally speaking, the map is the best way to search for records and information that is rooted in a location. Start by clicking the button for the continent, such as North America. From there, select the county from the menu, such as United States, then drill down by state. This will take you to the Wiki entry for that state.
Location-based FamilySearch Wiki Pages
If you’re really new to research in a particular location, start with the guided research link on the location’s wiki page. You may also see links to research strategies, record finder, and record types.
Getting Started section – links to step-by-step research strategies and the most popular records.
The county pages are where the real magic happens because many records such as birth, marriage, death, and court records are typically available at the county level. There you’ll find out how to contact or visit the current county courthouse. Look for Boundary Changes on the page. Use your computer’s Find on Page feature by pressing Control + F (PC) or Command + F (mac) on your keyboard to more quickly find words like Boundary on the page.
Exploring Record Collection Pages
Many record collections have their own page on the Wiki. As you type, these pages will populate in the drop-down list. Example: German Census Records. Take a moment to read through the page and you’ll discover some important information that will save you time and headaches, such as:
- When censuses were taken
- National versus local censuses and their various levels
- Censuses in areas where boundaries have changed over time
- Various types of census forms we may encounter
- The purpose behind the creation of census records in Germany
- The kind of information we can expect to find in the German census
- Other types of records containing similar information
- Resource articles (including a handout from a past RootsTech)
- Wiki articles describing online collections
There are a couple of actions we may want to take before going on to search for records. Here are a few:
Click on the Category to see what else is attached to this category – in this case we see some example images that are helpful in interpreting German census forms.
Click the Cite this page link in the left column if we plan to reference the page elsewhere.
Click Printable Version in the left column if we want a printable or PDF version of the page.
Explore related pages by clicking the What links here link in the column on the left. Notice it also shows if there are any other users watching the page.
Learn more about using Family Search
Videos at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems YouTube channel:
- FamilySearch Search Essentials
- All About GEDCOM (with FamilySearch)
- Get my free weekly email newsletter.
House Photo Identification – How to Find Who Lived at an Address
Elevenses with Lisa Episode 28
Original air date: 10/8/20
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.
In this episode we’re going to take many of the things we’ve learned in past episode of Elevenses with Lisa and apply them to one of your genealogical problems. My goal isn’t to find the answer myself, but rather to provide a toolbox of strategies that you can use to experience the joy of the discovery yourself when researching a home or location, as well as in a wide variety of other genealogical situations! Keep reading for notes that accompany this episode.
Cynthia Owens is a regular viewer and participant in the Live chat each week during Elevenses with Lisa. She emailed this photo and wrote “This picture was with my mother’s belongings…photo of a house in Omak, Okanogan, Washington with only an address written on it. 308 S. Main, Omak, WA. I have hundreds of photo’s (B & W) that have no information on them and a lot of people who I don’t know. I have a gold mine and no idea how to mine it.”
Cynthia said that so far she has found the names of the last two owners in county records and some directories. She also determined that the house was built in 1928. She writes, “I have a lot of family on both sides of my parents who could have owned it.”
Formulate Your Research Question
The research question in this case boils down to: Who owned the home at 308 S. Main, Omak, WA in the 1930s?
Compile Known Family Names
We start by compiling a list of family surnames that we will be on the lookout for. These are families who are known to have lived in Washington state during that time frame.
Cynthia’s mother’s family names:
Cynthia’s father’s family names:
Answer the Question Does the house still exist today?
To answer this question, we turn to the free Google Earth Pro software. By simply searching the for the address and using Street View we are able to determine that yes, it is. Google Earth also allows us to obtain a high-quality image.
Google for Land Records
I conducted a simple Google search: Okanogan County Land Records
- The Central Regional Branch of the Washington State Archives
“The Central Regional Branch provides archival and records management services to local government agencies throughout Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, and Yakima counties.”
- the Washington State Archives Digital Archives search page. Their online records don’t go back that far.
- The Okanogan County Auditor website
Locating Land Records
Special Guest: Kathy Nielsen, Librarian
Kathy Nielsen is a reference librarian and an educator. She has a masters degree in History and in Library Science. Kathy is currently a popular genealogy speaker on California’s Monterey Peninsula. She incorporates her skills as an historian, a storyteller and a librarian in her search for her family’s history. Kathy Nielsen stopped by to offer suggestions on obtaining land records. Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 20 on House History featuring Kathy Nielsen.
The FamilySearch Wiki
Visit the free FamilySearch Wiki here. Search for the county in the wiki and then click on Land Records.
County Auditors Department
- Where land records are located.
- You can do a title search.
- The records may not be online.
- Email or call and inquire what the options are to access the records or have a search done.
- Access varies by county.
Follow the chain of ownership back in time:
Grantee = the person who bought the property
Grantor = the person who sold the property.
Real Estate Websites
These sites don’t provide owner names but do show you recent transactions.
Result: The house was sold in 1997. It went on the market briefly in 2013.
Assessor’s Office (Tax Records)
These are typically only available to the current owner.
More Places to Look for Real Estate Related Information
City directories are usually published yearly. Look also for Reverse Directories that allow you to look up the address in order to find who lived there. Kathy suggests contacting the local public library staff to inquire about City Directories and other records. Many libraries are currently staffing online reference chat.
Kathy recommends expanding out from the local area library to nearby communities, and the state. The Washington State Library is also currently answering questions. They have a genealogy department and city directories.
WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services. The online catalog that itemizes the collections of 17,900 libraries in 123 countries and territories.
National Register of Historic Places
According to the website: “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resource.” Click here to learn more about and search their digital database.
Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (Washington State)
From the website: “On this site you will find information on historic buildings, the archaeology of Washington State, how to navigate our regulatory processes and how to nominate properties to the State and National Register of Historic Places.”
Contacting and talking to neighbors is often one of the quickest and easiest ways to gain information. The 411.com website offers a free reverse address lookup. The results will give you the name of the current owner and residents, and even plot nearby neighbors (with names) on a map.
Researching the Home from Home
If you’re unable to research in person, make significant headway with these online resources.
Google to find the official website of the historical society located in the area where the house is located. These sites may include searchable databases and information on how to contact them for resources and lookups.
Result: The Okanogan County Historical Society features a searchable database.
Search Facebook for the name of the county historical society in the area where the house is located. Facebook pages often include more up to date information than the official website.
Depending on the town and area, you may be able to find an old map from the approximate time frame that includes details on homes. Two excellent free resources are:
- Historical maps in the Layers panel of Google Earth Pro
Search at Genealogy Records Websites
Searching for various combinations of the address, town and surnames from the family tree may lead you to an answer. Here are a few examples of searches run at Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. (Your results may vary depending on the date you are searching):
Keyword: (address) 308 Main St, Omak (exact)
Results: 25 (These were not all exact)
Residence: (town) Omak (exact) and Keyword: (address) 308 Main St. (exact)
Search each surname in Okanogan County at Ancestry.
Results for Cynthia’s mother’s family names:
Woodhead (Paul Woodhead married in Okanogan in 1941)
Patience (No results)
Cynthia’s father’s family names:
Stubbs (results from the 1970s)
Tucker (8 results)
Run the same at the free FamilySearch.org genealogy website. Search each surname with Omak (exact) & 1920-1940 (restricted to) U.S. On the day I searched, the only surname from the list with results was Tucker. Cynthia’s next step would be to compare the results to her known family tree.
Search the Census Specifically
You can search the census by using the search fields and using variations of names, town, county and specific address. If you don’t find the specific address that way, brown the records of the town, looking for addresses written in the left margin. At Ancestry, look for the link to a map of the location found in a census.
Results: 1930 Census: 104 West First St., Omak (Jess Tucker)
Use Google Earth to determine if the addresses found are the same today. Plot each finding on the map using placemarks.
Result: 1930 Census Address: 104 West First Street, Omak = not there today
A search in the 1940 for Jess Tucker found him still living with his mother. She was recorded as “Frances Write” living at 504 Main St., Omak, close to the house in question. When searching the census be sure to look at the pages on either side of the results page. In this case Jess is found on the next page living at “no number” as a renter at his mother’s home.
1940 Census Enumeration District Maps
Ancestry has a collection of 1940 Enumeration District Maps from the National Archives (where they can also be found here along with additional helpful search strategies.) Enumeration districts are geographic areas that were designed to allow an enumerator (the census taker) to visit every house in the district within a two-week time period. A month was allowed in more wide-spread rural areas. These maps vary in the amount of detail provided. They may or may not indicate house numbers.
Go the Ancestry Card Catalog and search for the 1940 Census Enumeration District Maps collection. In the search fields for this collection, enter the enumeration district number which can be found in the upper corner of the 1940 census page.
State Censuses were often conducted every ten years in years ending with “5” which makes them a great supplement to the U.S. Federal Census. They also sometimes include information not gathered at the federal level. Therefore, an important question to ask is “was a State Census taken in this approximate time period?”
Here’s a State Census list from the National Archives.
Results for Washington state: No state census taken after 1898.
Card Catalog Include Useful Unique Sources
Not all useful records will surface with a straight-forward search. Dig into the Card Catalog of your favorite genealogy records website to find unique and useful collections that may include addresses.
Example: Search the Ancestry card catalog for Okanogan County, WA
Found: Washington, Postmaster Indexes, Prior to 1965
Strategy: Browse the alphabetically organized Okanogan cards for each family name.
Another unique record type that often includes address are Draft Cards. Search by location then surname. Also try Keyword searches. Not all cards include complete addresses but many do.
The Future is Bright
Here’s a summary of the wide variety of genealogical research strategies we’ve covered in this episode:
- FamilySearch Wiki (by county)
- FamilySearch Card Catalog (by location)
- County Auditor’s Dept. for land records
- com for most recent purchase
- City Directories (including reverse)
- Local, County, and State libraries)
- National Register of Historic Places
- Historical Society (website and Facebook)
- Old maps
- Search Genealogy sites by address & surname
- Census / State Census
- Unique Records (Draft cards, Postmaster Index)
- Plot in Google Earth for perspective
- Census Enumeration District Maps
Premium Video & Handout: Solving Unidentified Photo Album Cases. (This video features using Google Photos.) Also watch Google Earth for Genealogy and download the handout.
Bonus Download exclusively for Premium Members: Download the show notes handout
Become a Genealogy Gems Premium Member today.
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