How would you like to have a "servant" that monitors the web for you, 24 hours a day, looking for any new mentions of things that interest you? In fact, you already have that available today. Best of all is the price: FREE of charge.
Google Alerts is a service that sends an email to you to inform you of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your queries. Once configured, you don't have to do anything for the new information to reach you, other than check your email in-box from time to time.
I use Google Alerts to watch for any reference to a mysterious ancestor of mine with an unusual name. Any new mention of him in a web page, a blog, a message board, on Facebook, or most anyplace else on the Internet will result in an email message to me. That message will include a link that I can click to view the original reference.
You can do the same. For instance, you can go to Google Alerts and specify a search for great-uncle Rufus Smith who lived in a small town in Ohio. Within 24 hours or so, you will receive an email message containing links to the existing articles that mention him, if any.
Disclaimer: This works unless there are hundreds of such references. In that case, Google Alerts will only show the first few dozen links. As with any web search, it will not find mentions of your search term that are inside a database, such as FamilySearch or Ancestry.
Even better, Google Alerts will continue to monitor the web for the information you supplied. Any new mention of great-uncle Rufus in almost any web site will soon appear in your email in-box. Google Alerts also sends you notices only one time. If a particular reference on a web page was already sent to you earlier, you will not receive a new notice about the same web page again at a later date. Each email message you receive contains only newly-found entries.
Keep in mind that Google searches for whatever you specify. If you look for "John Smith," you may be overwhelmed with results. You need to think of appropriate words to narrow down the search.
I am fortunate in that my mother's maiden name is unique. It is actually a corrupted spelling of a common French-Canadian surname. Everyone I have ever found whose last name has identical spelling to that of my mother's family has always turned out to be a relative. I use a Google Search of one word: her maiden name. I frequently receive updates about all my cousins' marriages, new babies, and various relatives whose names appear in local court news. I also found that a couple of my younger cousins are great high school athletes, and their names appear frequently in the sports pages of local newspapers in Maine. Google Alerts helps me keep track of what family members are up to.
My own surname, however, is not as simple to find in Google Alerts. Not only is it a rather common name, but several corporations also have the same name. (I guess my distant relatives have been prolific business people.) A simple search for that surname results in thousands of references found every day.
Instead of searching only for the name, I have to add other terms to narrow the results. For instance, I am looking for any information about Washington Harvey Eastman, who lived most of his adult life in the small town of Corinth, Maine. In Google Alerts, I specified a search of:
"Washington Harvey Eastman" Corinth Maine
Placing his full name in quotes specifies that I only want to receive notices that spell out his full name in exactly the same manner that I specified. I also only want to see results that include his name along with the word "Corinth" and the word "Maine." Of course, this is imperfect. I will not receive any Google Alerts of new entries of "Washington H. Eastman" (notice the middle name is slightly different) nor will I receive any entries that include the word "Exeter" in place of "Corinth." (Exeter is a town adjacent to Corinth.) If this man's name appears in a web site that mentions residents of the adjacent town, Google Alerts will not notify me since that is not the search I specified.
In short, I have to get creative with my search terms. Luckily, Google Alerts allows for multiple searches. I can create one search for the exact words shown above and then perhaps another search that omits his middle name plus another search that mentions the adjacent town plus another search that omits the town entirely but does mention the county name.
Even though Google Alerts is not a perfect genealogy search engine, it is still far better than searching manually every day.
Of course, Google Alerts are not limited to genealogy uses. After all, Google searches for WORDS of any sort; it is not limited to names and locations. Some handy uses of Google Alerts include:
monitoring a developing news story
keeping current on a competitor or industry
getting the latest news about a celebrity or event
keeping tabs on your favorite sports teams
I can offer another example. I used to own a Saab Sonett sports car, a rather limited edition automobile manufactured by Saab in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Parts for these cars are nearly impossible to find today. I created a Google Alert for "Saab Sonett" and often received notices of parts for sale as well as for notices of various car shows and Saab enthusiasts' get-togethers around the world. I suspect you can think of additional uses for Google Alerts.
Using Google Alerts is easy. Go to http://www.google.com/alerts and enter a search query you wish to monitor. You will see a preview of the type of results you'll receive. Enter your email address, and also specify how often you wish to receive alerts (immediately, daily, or weekly). Then sit back and let Google work for you.
Your first attempt at searching probably will not be perfect. Your search might be too narrow and produce no results, or it might be too broad a search, giving thousands of results. Either way, return to Google Alerts by clicking on the link at the bottom of any email message you receive for that search term, and then modify the search term as you feel appropriate. With a bit of practice, you can probably specify exactly what you seek.
Google Alerts is useful, free, and available to you now. Try it yourself at http://www.google.com/alerts.