Google searches for genealogy are a main focus of our Google Guru, Lisa Louise Cooke. Read this inspiring story of how one Genealogy Gems reader used Lisa’s Google search tips to find a trove of family stories worthy of an opera.
Opera house image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.
You never know when the amazing technology of the internet and Google will lead to a discovery that will open the doors on your family history. I recently received a letter from Genealogy Gems listener, Kristen. She shared the sad tale of her maternal grandmother’s history. Her grandmother had lost her mother before the age of two. Then, as an only child, her father abandoned her to be raised by a less-than-loving step mother. This young woman grew-up and had children of her own, but all she had in the way of a family history was the memory of her father’s name and a handful of unnamed photographs.
Kristen went on to say, “She never really spoke of her sad childhood, save to say that the stepmother would tell her she had always been unwanted and that her mother was unloved and the marriage was forced.”
Among the handful of mystery photographs of her grandmother as a child, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners titled Silence is Golden and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman was attached.
Using Clues for Google Searches for Genealogy
Here’s the rest of Kristen’s letter:
I took your advice and Googled Merton Markert Modern Classical Silence Golden. Up came the Lancaster High School Yearbook for 1905, featuring p. 41, the senior class portraits with their course study descriptions and a small personal quote for each. There was that exact photo of her, and the name Merton Markert, Modern Classical with the quote, “Life seems a jest of Fate’s contriving.”
The whole yearbook had been digitized by Mocavo, and it is the only yearbook for that high school in several years. My great-grandmother [Merton Markert], who had been buried and unspoken for a hundred years, had reached out to me. She wanted me to find her! Lisa, I cannot adequately describe the feelings I experienced at that moment of discovery. You understand how a moment like that feels, I’m sure. The chills, the tears…I felt like I was staring into her eyes, reaching through a century of silence, and finally able to acknowledge her sacrifice and legacy.
On the football team that year was my great-grandfather, and the whole book was ripe with clues that still hold nuanced significance.
From there, I was able to grow a tree on Ancestry.com and get the basics. But that does not tell you who the person is, the struggles, the character, the story. So taking your lead, and thinking like my brother the Sherriff Detective, I got creative. Using all kinds of searches and sniffing and turning over and under, I was able to uncover a veritable opera’s worth of stories within this one branch [of my family tree]. The cast of characters include: A Colonial founder, a secret bastard half-sister, a suicidal mother, a Klondike Gold Stampeder, alcoholics, a rejected Baptist Pastor, a homosexual affair-turned-murder victim, a bonafide Monuments Man (buried at Arlington), and a chorus of war veterans. And cancer. Lots of it. In fact, breast cancer was the reason for Merton’s death in 1910. That kind of information is vital to my sisters and female cousins.
So thank you, my clever inspiration.
Ain’t opera grand?
Lisa’s Response to Kristen with Additional Ideas
Thanks for sharing your fascinating story. I completely understand the emotions you felt the moment she was looking back at you on the screen. Those moments are precious and meant to be savored!
Using search techniques from my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition,I also discovered this same yearbook on the robust and free Internet Archive website. Perhaps there is more there to be found. And I have an additional idea I thought you might like to try. It’s Ebay.
Genealogy Gems Premium Members can listen to Premium episode 16 which goes in depth into my Tips for Finding Family History Related Items on eBay.
More on Google Searches for Genealogy
Google is an effective and easy-to-use genealogy tool, you just need to know a few basics. Watch my YouTube video on speaking Google’s language and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss any of our tech tips and more!
Bust a genealogy brick wall by learning to speak Google’s language. Proper use of Google’s basic search operators will have you plowing through walls in your research in nothing flat!
Genealogy information is sprinkled across the millions of websites on the web. Whether it’s a digital image of your great-great grandma on a distant cousins website or an out-of-print history book listed in the online card catalog in a library on the other side of the globe. Google can help you find it all.
Gaining access to that information is not as hard as you may think. I’d like to share a question I received recently from a Genealogy Gems Podcast listener, and show you how you can bust a brick wall by speaking Google’s language.
Here’s the email that I received from Ruth last week:
I’m sitting here listening to one of your free podcasts…I’m working, I’m listening, and I’m thinking…about my brick wall James Craig, what I know and what I’m trying to find out!
I know that James Craig was born about 1795-97 in New Jersey and was at Ft. Jesup, Louisiana in 1823, [and] that he was discharged in 1825. I researched New Jersey military records and found a James Craig, from Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey, who joined the Army [in] August 1820 for five years [and] he was sent to Fort Scott, Georgia. I read articles that state, when Fort Scott closed sometime around 1822/23, the men were sent to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Do you see the trail I’m following? It’s not hard to make the connection from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Fort Jesup, Louisiana. My problem is that I haven’t found any transfer papers!! So, how do I verify that James Craig from Pittsgrove, New Jersey is my 3rd great-grandfather. Is it possible that there are journals from the commanding officer of each encampment that might shed some light on this?
Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have on this long standing brick wall!
Tips to Bust a Genealogy Brick Wall
Ruth asked “Is it possible that there are journals from the commanding officer of each encampment that might shed some light on this?” I certainly think it is possible! I would suggest using Google to search the web because such items might be digitized online, or they might be listed on a library or archive website as being available at their location. Either way, you would gain valuable information on how to access the items.
Here’s an example of a search I would run:
This search is based on my Google Excellent Method Search Let’s break down the pieces of this search query:
The quotation marks tell Google that the word or phrase must be in every search result (in other words, they are mandatory.) When used around a phrase, that means the phrase must appear exactly as searched.
The asterisk tells Google there might be a word or two between the words in a phrase, such as a middle initial.
By putting OR between two versions of the phrases, such as last name first and first name first, you cover all your bases. Note that the word OR must be capitalized to work as a Google operator.
Finally, two numbers separated by 2 dots is called a “numrange search” and that tells Google a number that falls within that range must appear in each search result. And of course, four digit numbers represent years to genealogists!
Your Genealogy Google Guru
Google packs a powerful punch for genealogists. Let me be your Genealogy Google Guru and watch my video below for even more helpful tips and tricks. Remember to subscribe to my Genealogy Gems YouTube channel so you’ll get all my upcoming Google video tips. Happy searching!
Speaking Google’s language will have you “genealogy leapfrogging!” It’s a new phrase coined by Gems reader, Steve, after his amazing discovery using the Google search techniques shared by Lisa in a recent lecture. You too can make some giant leaps in your genealogy research by speaking Google’s language.
After a recent lecture presentation, we received this email from Steve:
Steve here. I just attended your Google Tools seminar in Kelowna. I have created a new term as a result of your workshop and it is called the “Genealogy Leapfrog.” That is when you leapfrog way ahead in your genealogy research because of something you have learned from Lisa! Here is the context. I am completely green at genealogy, this was my first conference and I have just recently commenced my family tree research. I have had a very, very hard time finding anything out about my mother’s maiden name Rochon and their family. Well, as a result of the tips I learned from you, I used my grandfather’s name “Joseph Rochon” OR “Joseph A. Rochon” Liliane (Grandmother’s name) and up pops the most incredible website I have ever seen. By clicking on the Rochon with Liliane, the complete family tree back to the 1600s is revealed. Wow…I am in complete shock. While I know that I need to research and verify this information, I am humbled at how you have enabled me to “Leapfrog” in my genealogy research. I now know more about the Rochon family than my cousin who has been researching our family tree for 20 years!
So, here is the real reason for my email – to simply say thank you. Thank you for coming to Kelowna to share your knowledge with us and thank you for your passion for genealogy research. I am a huge beneficiary of your knowledge which has enabled me to do the “Genealogy Leapfrog.”
Yours in genealogy,
Learning to Leapfrog by Speaking Google’s Language
We were tickled to hear this new phrase based on the exciting techniques that Lisa and we here at The Genealogy Gems Podcast are sharing. Learning to speak Google’s language is a truly amazing tool for successful searching.
It is all based on using Google search operators correctly and Lisa shares that knowledge with you in this video below.
Happy hunting, friends! We know there is a wealth of information to comb through on the internet, but you can do it. Will you share your successes with us here in the comment section? We love to hear from you!
Using Google Books for genealogy is a successful tool to many. A Gem’s reader shares the remarkable story she uncovered using the tips for using Google Books she learned from a recent Genealogy Gems Premium podcast.
From Genealogy Gems Premium member:
I was just listening to the newest Premium podcast concerning filtering the lists on Google Books (Premium episode 137). I would like to relay my story for using your hints and tips on Google.
My great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. At the age of 48, he married my great-grandmother and my grandmother was born the next year. I found much to my dismay, that he committed suicide when my grandmother was a few weeks old. It was stated that he had what would be described today as post-traumatic stress disorder, and the burning of the court house where he worked as a county clerk set off something. My Dad was born on what would have been my great-grandfather’s 90th birthday.
I have known for about 30 years that my great-grandfather wrote articles under a pen name. My aunt told me she had been told he wrote articles about the scenery in southern Utah where he lived. I searched and searched and never found any of his articles. Then, I had a breakthrough. I found the pen name by using several tips you mentioned for using Google. The pen name was Lock Melone. It was spelled differently than I had been told.
It turns out, he was a very well-known humorist. One of his stories appears in a publication alongside an article by Mark Twain. (He wrote articles in the 1870s and 1880s.)
Now, back to your tips on Google. I was Googling, checking all the old newspapers I could find to collect his writings. One of the sources continually mentioned in Google Books was a literary magazine called The Californian. These were not all free on Google, but I was not to be deterred after all these years! I used the basic information and time frames listed in Google Books and looked at WorldCat. That led me to e-books and to some of the holdings in universities around the country.
As of today, I have found 69 of his articles! They have made an ancestor who I thought had a rough life with a tragic end, a new person, full of life and laughter! I am sure his stories are based on events that occurred during his “real life” adventures. He lived life to the fullest, traveling a great deal, and saw the world through a light heart.
I am continuing to search for more articles and have begun to compile his writings to give to my children and cousins for a Christmas present this year (if I can figure out how to put it all together!) With my grandmother as his only child, I will have given his life to all his descendants, a very special chore on which I have worked on with great pleasure.
Thanks for the tips on Google and other sites you have given over the years.”
Follow-up Ideas for Using Google Books for Genealogy
Here are a few follow-up suggestions relating to finding issues of a literary magazine or another scholarly publication like The Californian:
First, turn to another powerful free tool in the Google toolbox: Google Scholar. It takes Google Books to the next level and you may hit on some things that Google Books may miss. Refer back to Premium Podcast 136 for a discussion of Google Scholar for genealogy, and Chapter 11 in my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Second Edition.
Second, remember that sometimes serial publications change names, or two different ones may have the same name. Wikipedia’s not the most expert source, but its article on The Californian says something you can follow up on. The Californian was published from 1880 to 1882, as a continuation of the earlier Overland Monthly which had stopped in 1875, and then in 1882 it switched back to its old name. This means you should look for both titles.
A third idea may be to check e-bay for back issues of old magazines and journals. Sometimes, it’s cheaper and easier to buy them than to try to borrow them through inter-library loan. E-bay does happen to have a CD version for sale of The Californian issues from 1880 to 1882. I talk more about finding family history items on e-bay in the Premium Podcast episodes 16, 76, and 131.
Lastly, don’t forget JSTOR. JSTOR is a shared digital library for scholarly journals and the like. It launched in 1995 to serve university and college libraries, running out of space to store old journal issues. Today, it includes over 2,300 journals and thousands of other materials. It’s even started including books. Over 50 million pages are digitized, with another 3 million being added every year.
The nice thing about JSTOR is that you don’t have to be affiliated with a major library to get access now. Individuals can register for free access allowing them to read some materials online. They offer free access to their Early Journal Content collection of scholarly content published before 1923 in the U.S. (and before 1870 in other parts of the world.) That collection alone has nearly a half million articles from over 200 journals.
Unfortunately in this case, JSTOR doesn’t have The Californian or Overland Monthly in its collections. But one can certainly use JSTOR to search for other journals. JSTOR is just a great resource for anyone to use when searching for historical articles, especially those you may come across in Google Scholar without the full article text.
Your Google Books for Genealogy Success Stories
It is so rewarding to hear your success stories in using Google Books for genealogy. Your stories inspire others. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comment section below.
Keep Reading: More Gems on Using Google Books for Genealogy Success
You can use Google Slides for genealogy to create one-of-a-kind presentations, a virtual scrapbook, or a virtual library list…and it’s free! Here’s how to take advantage of yet another awesome Google tool.
I was recently asked if there was a software program or app, something free perhaps, to share a slideshow or create a visual presentation. There is! It’s called Google Slides. Here’s how Lisa Louise Cooke, author of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, explains it:
Google Slides is an online presentation application, much like Microsoft’s Powerpoint. It’s part of Google’s free office suite of tools. As a genealogist, it provides the opportunity to create and visually share your family history.
It’s a Cloud-based service and that means you can access your presentations wherever you are and on any computing device. You will sign-in to Google Slides with your personal Google account. That means you will be able to keep everything private unless you decide to share it. Although it’s Cloud-based, you can use it offline too. Any new presentations you create or changes you make will be automatically updated when you get back online. You can show your presentation at the next family reunion or genealogy society meeting even if there’s no Internet access.
There’s a lot of potential for using this powerful tool for genealogy!
With that great introduction, I’d like to share a few unique examples of how a genealogist or a genealogy society could use Google Slides.
Google Slides for the Genealogist
Google Slides is an easy way to create a fun slide show of your ancestor photos. This can be shared at family gatherings or reunions right from your laptop. You can also share the presentation with a click-able link.
To begin, find Google Slides by going to Google.com and sign-in to your free Google account (or sign up if you don’t have one.) Click on the grid to the left of your sign-in avatar. This will bring down several options. If you don’t see Google Slides as an option, click More at the bottom.
If you still don’t see Google Slides as an option, click on Even More from Google. This will take you to another screen of all sorts of Google goodies! Scroll down until you find Google Slides and click on it.
Once you have opened Google Slides, click the plus sign to begin.
I added a title and then clicked the tiny arrow to the right of the plus sign to add a new blank slide.
At the new slide and each additional slide, you can add a picture by first clicking Insert from the labels listed across the top, then choose Image. A pop-up window will appear and allow you to Choose an Image to Upload. You will then find the image you have saved on your computer and click Open.
Keep adding your slides until you have all of them created.
Sharing Your Google Slides Presentation
Like many of us, I like to share my ancestor photos with my family and friends. While at a family gathering of a small group, I just set my laptop up on the coffee table and we huddle around. Bring up your Google Slides presentation on your laptop or mobile device and click on Present at the top right of the screen. The computer does the rest and presents a slideshow for your viewers.
You might also wish to share your slides with family and friends far away. You can do this by sharing a link. To create a shareable link, click Share at the top right corner.
A pop-up window will appear. Click the little drop-down menu next to the words “can view.” This option allows you to choose whether you wish people to be able to edit, comment, or view only. I typically choose the “view only” option. Then, a shareable link is created for you. Click Copy link and paste that into an email directly to a family member, to your family history blog, in a Tweet, or in a Facebook post. Wa-la! You have shared your Google Slides presentation.
Create a Virtual Book Cover List with Google Slides
Another stellar way to use Google Slides for genealogy is to create a convenient virtual library list. A recent article found online gave me the idea of creating a library list using images of the covers of books.
For example, if you enjoy attending genealogy conferences and buying books for your society, you may get stuck wondering, “Do we already have that in our collection?” By creating a virtual book cover list, you won’t have to wonder anymore!
You will first need to begin this project by taking a picture of the covers of each of your books and saving the images to your computer or laptop. I took pictures, cropped them, and sharpened them up a bit with my smartphone. Then, I saved them to a file folder on my computer named Book Covers. [Tip:It would be an even better idea to save the Book Covers folder to your Google Drive!]
For something quick and easy, use the virtual book cover template here: Virtual Book Cover List Template. If you choose to use this link, when it opens, click Make a copy and Google Slides will open. Right click on any of the book cover images you see, a pop-up window appears. Choose Replace image and then find an image of one of your own book covers.
Once you have replaced each of the book covers with ones of your own, you can rearrange them with the click-and-drag method. You might want to put them in alphabetical order or perhaps categorize them by subject or place.
When you have finished, don’t forget to title it. There is no need to save it because Google Slides automatically saves for you. Google Slides is accessible from any of your devices and can even be viewed on-the-go from your mobile device. You’ll love this feature when you are trying to decide what books to add to your genealogy library.
How Can You Use Google Slides for Genealogy?
We are sure there are dozens of ways to use Google Slides for genealogy. Give Google Slides a try and if you think of another use for this wonderful tool, let us know about it in the comments below! Thanks for reading, friends.