Google search expert Lisa Louise Cooke advises a genealogist on three ways to improve Google search results. See how these little improvements can make a big difference in your own Google searches!
This Genealogist Wants to Improve Google Search Results
Gene from Phoenix recently watched a free webinar in which I talked about improving Google search results for genealogy and then sent me this follow-up email:
“Lisa, I enjoyed the free webinar, Thank you!
I tried your suggestions for searching Google but still can’t get what I want.
My ancestor was Moses Fountain (possibly from NY but can only find him in IN)
I put in “Moses Fountain” 1800-1832 -Italy -Rome -hotel
When my search comes up the first page is all of the hotel & fountain in Rome, Italy. There is no genealogy (all my inquiries) until page 2. I cannot -New York as he may have come from there, so I’ll continue to get Albany fountain (like the water fountain.) Thanks for any suggestions you might have.” -Gene in Phoenix, AZ
3 Powerful Techniques that can Improve Google Search Results
Kudos to Gene for jumping onto Google and giving it a go after the webinar. Getting started is the most important part of achieving genealogical success! In order to improve Google search results, Gene needs to make a few adjustments to tell Google more specifically what is wanted:
1. Use the Google search operators correctly
First, Gene will need to fix the numrange search. If you haven’t watched the webinar yet (what are you waiting for?) a numrange search is when you give Google two four-digit numbers and specify that you only want webpages included in your search results that have a four-digit number that falls within that range. And of course years are expressed in four-digit numbers, so this is incredibly useful for genealogists. Gene has a dash between the two numbers (a very logical approach since this is how we are used to expressing a range), but a numrange search requires two periods instead, like this:
2. Add a Google search term to narrow results.
Gene didn’t see genealogical search results until page 2 of the results. An easy way to bring pages related to genealogy to the forefront of the results is to add the word genealogy to your search query:
As you can see above, this improves things quite a bit. Isn’t it amazing what a difference one well-chosen keyword can make to improve Google search results?
3. Consider carefully which Google search terms to remove
Gene removed some irrelevant search results by placing a minus sign directly in front of the search terms Italy, Rome, and hotel. This tells Google to subtract all pages from search results that contain these words. This is a very powerful tool, particularly when it comes to ancestors who have common surnames. (For instance, if you were researching an ancestor named John Lincoln, your results would be inundated with results for President Abraham Lincoln, simply due to the volume of pages that mention him. If John was not related to this famous president, you could add -Abraham and -president to your search query, and his footprints on your results would be dramatically reduced.) By the way, notice that the minus sign touches the word it is removing. There should be no space between the minus and the word.
But Gene continues to get irrelevant search results relating to a Moses Fountain in Washington Park, Albany, New York. The concern expressed here is that removing New York may inadvertently remove good search results, since this ancestor may have been from New York. Instead of removing New York, why not subtract a more targeted search term, such as Albany or Washington Park? Since it’s also possible that Moses Fountain was from Albany, I’d start by removing Washington Park.
How can you subtract a whole phrase? Put quotation marks around it so that Google understands it is a phrase and not two separate words that are unconnected. Then put a minus sign right in front of it. In Gene’s case, it would look like this: -“Washington Park.” The resulting search results eliminate the reference to the fountain in Albany:
Improve Google search results even more dramatically
Watch this free 90-minute webinar and learn more about improving your Google searches for genealogy, along with other powerful strategies for reconstructing your family history. While you’re watching, subscribe to the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel to keep up with the many free video tutorials we publish there!
As you can imagine, I only had time to scratch the surface of how to improve your searches in the webinar. My book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox is dedicated to the topic, and I have included several in-depth Google search for genealogy video classes in Genealogy Gems Premium Membership.
Wishing you many more genealogy gems!
On January 28, 2015 Google announced that Google Earth PRO is now available for FREE! Not just a free trial. Google is allowing everyone to get a free key to Google Earth Pro!
In the past the software fee was hundreds of dollars. But now you can get Google Earth Pro for free and gain the ability to do things like “measure 3D buildings, print high-resolution images for presentations or reports, and record HD movies” inside Google Earth.To get your free key to Google Earth Pro sign up here. After submitting the form, you will be emailed the free license key. Copy the license key from the email, then click the link provided to download Google Earth Pro app for PC and Mac.
Everything I’ve taught you about using Google Earth still applies, but now you have more tools than ever!
Since I announced this in the last Genealogy Gems Newsletter, I’ve received several questions. Here’s what you need to know about Google Earth Pro:
From Sheri: “I did get it to finally work…..instead of my phone number running together….I added the dashes between the numbers and then it went through. FYI….in case you hear an issue from others.”
Thanks for the tip Sheri. Most likely the problem you were running into after the big announcement that Google Earth Pro went free was the sheer amount of traffic the site received. Googlers swarmed the site, and any people found it took several attempts to get a successful download. As time passes, it should get quicker and easier to download.
From Kathy: “I downloaded the Google Earth Pro BUT now I have regular and Pro on my computer and all the spots marked in regular seemed to have transferred to Pro—Question—should I now uninstall the regular version?”
Answer: That decision is really up to you. I’ve decided to keep both for a while, but only do work from this point forward in Pro. If in a few months everything is still running smoothly, then I will probably delete the old free version just to free up disk space on my computer. For now, it certainly doesn’t hurt to leave it there.
The good news is that both programs appear to pull from the same files on your computer. This means that when you create a file in Pro, you will also see it in your Places panel in the free version.
Question from Dea: “I downloaded Google Earth Pro on my main computer. I now want to use the same license key for my laptop and android, as I signed up for 2 to 5 users. I assumed that I could use the same license key. When I tried to sign up on my laptop it said I already was a user, but do not know how I can access it from my laptop. Help!”
Answer: Although the sign up page asks how many users will be using the program, my understanding is that each download key is for one device. I would guess that the user question is about how many people might be using the application on that device. (Unfortunately the website isn’t clear on this point.) I’m basing this on the fact that when it was a paid version, you had to purchase a license key for each device.
As with the original free version of Google Earth, each device you download Google Earth to has it’s own unique Places Panel. In other words, files you create on your desktop computer don’t show up on your laptop. This is because the files are stored on that particular device and not on the Cloud (for privacy reasons).
So the bottom line is that to get another license key for another device you will need to use a different email. If you only have one email address, you could create a second free email in Gmail just to have an email you can use.
Dea’s Reply: “Thank you for such a prompt reply. I am sure there must be more than one of you. I do not know how you get so much accomplished….saw you at Midwest Roots in Indianapolis and, again, at a webinar for our Genealogy Society in Terre Haute, IN. You are an excellent speaker, teacher as well as entertaining.”
Lisa: Now I’m blushing!!
Answers to more questions:
Do you really need Google Earth Pro? Probably not, because Pro was created originally for businesses. However there are some pretty cool extras that you get by going Pro:
- Movie-Maker: Export Windows Media and QuickTime HD movies, up to 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution. (Sweet!)
- High-resolution printing: Print images up to 4,800 x 3,200 pixel resolution. (The free version max: 1,000 pixels.)
- Spreadsheet import: Ingest up to 2,500 addresses at a time, assigning place marks and style templates in bulk. (My geeky side is getting giddy!)
- Exclusive pro data layers: Demographics, parcels, and traffic count.
- Advanced measurements: Measure parking lots and land developments with polygon area measure, or determine affected radius with circle measure.
Want to learn more about using Google Earth specifically for genealogy? Check out this free video class.
And there are several chapters on using Google Earth for genealogy in my brand new book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox Second Edition (2015). You can pick up as a special bundle here with my 2 disc DVD set Google Earth for Genealogy.
(Update 2020) When genealogists take an ancestry DNA test, they are looking for more than just their ethnicity results. They are also very interested in receiving information on other people who have tested who closely genetically match them. They want to know who the closest matches are, and if those matches have family tree information that they can share.
However, with all the people testing these days, (some being genealogists and some not) the volume of matches can become overwhelming very quickly.
Are you one of those people who have way too many genetic “4th cousins or closer” among your DNA matches? Have you ever wondered “What do I do with all these matches?!” If so, keep reading. We’re going to explore some of your options, and most importantly, how to determine how genetically close your cousins really are.
Doing the DNA Math on Your Cousins
Math can provide us with a degree of certainty in genetic genealogy. Each of us has two biological parents. We have four biological grandparents, and eight great-grandparents.
However, the farther back we go the less we can rely on math.
For example, on paper you should have sixty-four 3rd great grandparents. However, many of us find that the same person occupies more than one slot on our pedigree chart. While this significantly decreases the workload for traditional genealogy, it adversely impacts your genetic genealogy. Especially when it comes to that long long list of 4th cousins you have in your match list at any of the three major DNA testing companies.
Depending on how intermarried your lines are, you may be seeing individuals on your match list that genetically look like your fourth cousins, but they are genealogically your sixth cousins – EIGHT TIMES! So how can you tell the difference?
There are two parts to that answer: one you can control, and the other you can’t.
Distinguishing DNA Matches with Genetic Tools
While your fourth cousins and your eight-time-sixth cousins may look similar genetically, there are often small clues in the genetics that can help you tell the difference. This distinction can sometimes be detected by a testing company who, through research and validation, has been able to fine-tune their algorithms to detect these subtle differences.
Your Genetic 4th Cousins
You can participate in this double checking process by using some of the genetic tools that are available to you at Family Tree DNA, or at Gedmatch.com. But since you may not be an aspiring geneticist, let’s focus on the genealogical work you can do to determine if a match is truly a fourth cousin.
Use Google Earth to Plot Your DNA Matches
A fourth cousin designation just means that you and your match are separated by between six and twelve degrees (people). So that might be five back on your chart to your common ancestor, and five down to your match, which would make you true fourth cousins. It could also be some other permutation of that.
For our example, let’s assume true fourth cousins. That means that the two of you share one of thirty-two 3rd great grandparents (16 couples). In order to find out which set, you have two genealogical identifiers: surname and location.
Therefore, the first thing you should do is make a list of the surnames and locations of those thirty-two 3X great grandparents.
Now, most of us do not know all 16 of those couples, so you are going to have some holes. Feel free to fill in those holes with surnames on subsequent generations that will carry through to this fifth generation.
A great tool to plot your own list of ancestors geographically is the free downloadable Google Earth software.
Check to see if you have the latest version of Google Earth downloaded to your desktop or laptop computer. On your desktop, look for a grey and white globe. If you see a blue and white globe, you have the older original free version of Google Earth. However, a few years ago, Google made their Google Earth Pro version free to everyone, and it is now the standard.
If you do have Google Earth Pro (the grey globe software) then you’re ready to go.
The grey Google Earth globe on the desktop.
If you don’t have it, then you will need to download it.
How to Download the Free Google Earth Software:
- Go to http://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html
- Click the blue download button
- Read the Terms and Conditions
- If you agree to them, click the Agree and Download button
- Follow the installation guide
- When complete click Run Google Earth
Now that you have Google Earth, you can begin by creating a folder in the Places panel in Google Earth devoted to your 16 couples. Here’s how:
1. In the Places panel, right-click on MyPlaces and select Add > Folder:
Right-click on MyPlaces > Add > Folder
2. Name the folder and then click OK:
Creating a folder in Google Earth
3. Now you will see your new DNA folder for your 16 couples in the Places panel. If you don’t see it, look toward the bottom of the list. You can move the folder to any location within the list by dragging and dropping it.
Create a folder in Google Earth for DNA 16 couples
Once you have your DNA folder created fro your 16 couples, you can then easily plot your surnames and locations.
How to Plot Your Surnames and Locations in Google Earth:
1. Click your new DNA folder to select it. This will ensure that the placemark you are about to create will be stored in that folder.
2. In the search box (upper left corner of the Google Earth software) type in the first location and click Search. Google Earth will fly to that location on the map.
Type the locaton in the Search box and click Search.
3. In the toolbar along the top of the screen, click the placemark button to place a pushpin in that location:
Click the Placemark button in the Google Earth toolbar.
4. In the Placemark dialogue box, enter a title for hte pushpin placemark. Click the OK button to close the box and set your placemark.
5. Repeat the process for all the locations.
Then evaluate the fifth generation of your fourth cousin matches for genealogical information that lines up with any of the items on your list.
You can also plot the surnames and locations of your matches in Google Earth. This is where Google Earth really comes in handy. The free software makes it very easy to see when your ancestral home may be bordering the locations of your matches. Those with whom you find a similarity become your best matches, and your best chance of determining your connection. Those without an obvious connection cycle to the bottom of your pile for a genetic evaluation. You can perform these same kinds of searches for your second and third cousins as well.
As you begin to become more familiar with the fifth generations of your matches, you may also start to see patterns of surnames or locations emerge among your matches. These then become the surnames and locations that might be able to fill the missing spaces in your pedigree chart.
More Genetic Genealogy and Google Earth Gems
If you are new to using Google Earth, I have several suggested resources for you by Lisa Louise Cooke:
Learn more in Premium episode 131.
Here’s a video of the authors discussing three common DNA misconceptions:
Authors: Diahan Southard and Lisa Louise Cooke
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 New Tab 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 New Tab
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.
If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning member, check out my current full-length Google search video classes. (Image below.) P.S. Don’t forget to download the PDF handout for each class!
If you’re not a member, but would like to be, click here to learn more.
Full length Google search classes available to Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning Members