Last week’s article introduced the concept of Boolean search terms for use on Google. That article is still available at https://blog.eogn.com/2016/10/27/boolean-basics-part-1. You might want to read that article again now to refresh it in your mind before proceeding with new topics. This week I will describe several advanced topics.
Last week’s article described the use of the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT (minus sign), and the concept of placing terms inside parenthesis. These search terms work well for single words, but you may find you need to include multiple words or phrases. For instance, you might be searching for an ancestor with an unusual name but perhaps not as unusual as you first thought. Perhaps there were two or more men of the same name who lived in different places at different times. For instance, as mentioned in last week’s article, I frequently search for the name of Washington Harvey Eastman. I have found two men of the same name. If one of them has many online references and the other has only a few, finding the person with fewer references can be problematic.
Let’s make a hypothetical assumption: two men of the same name are listed in Google’s indexes. We will assume that one man lived in Maine and is rarely mentioned on Google while the other lived in North Carolina and has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of references on the search engine. Of course, I am interested in the rarely-mentioned man, the one in Maine. I might be tempted to specify the following search:
Washington Harvey Eastman -North Carolina
Notice the minus sign in the above search, signifying NOT.
The above search will not accomplish what I want. Keep in mind that, unless specified otherwise, Google parses the search terms, one word at a time. The above search says to look for all pages that have the words Washington, Harvey, Eastman, and Carolina on the page but NOT the word North. The reason here is that the only word immediately following the minus sign is the word North. Every other word in this string – including Carolina – is taken as a word to search for. This is not going to work. The better solution is to eliminate both the word North and the word Carolina. Your better solution is to specify:
Washington Harvey Eastman -North -Carolina
The above will indeed eliminate any references to North Carolina found on a web page; but, it also eliminates any references to the single word North as well as eliminates any references to Carolina. It might even eliminate references you want, such as a reference to Washington Harvey Eastman and his wife Carolina Eastman who lived in North Bangor. In other words, the above search term is still too broad to accomplish what you seek.
In fact, this example needs to eliminate a phrase, not individual words. You specify phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks. The better method is to specify a search of:
Washington Harvey Eastman -“North Carolina”
This eliminates the phrase of North Carolina but does not block access to pages containing references to South Carolina or to a woman’s name of Carolina or to any reference to the word North. Again, the dash, or minus sign, is immediately preceding the word(s) I do not want to search for with no space after the dash.
Of course, you can combine quotation marks and other Boolean search terms, such as parentheses. Let’s use a new example. Perhaps I want to find information about a man named William or John Smith who lived in Denver, Colorado. One method of specifying the search is:
“John Smith” OR “William Smith” AND “Denver, Colorado”
Even though I have capitalized the proper names here, capital letters are not necessary. This example will work the same with the word AND omitted. However, we can refine it still more. Since the search looks for the exact string of characters that is enclosed in quotes, this search specifies that the state name of Colorado must be spelled out, not abbreviated, and there must be a comma immediately after the word, Denver. The search terms are correct technically but may not accomplish what you wish.
A better approach is to specify a search of:
(john OR william) AND smith AND denver AND (colorado OR co)
This will find all the commonly-used variations, including:
John Smith of Denver, CO
John Smith in Denver, Colorado
William Smith Colorado Mining Company in Denver, Texas
Of course, even more complex variations may be specified, such as:
“John Smith” OR “William Smith” NOT Denver NOT (Colorado OR CO)
The above will find references to either of the two men’s names as long as Denver and either Colorado, or CO are not mentioned on the web page.
Wildcard searches (*)
The asterisk (*), or wildcard, is a little-known feature that can be very powerful. If you include * within a query, it tells Google to try to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown word(s) and then find the best matches. For example, the following search will find variations of my mystery ancestor:
Washington * Eastman
The above will find Washington Harvey Eastman, Washington Eastman, Washington H. Eastman, as well as Washington Williams Eastman
I am not looking for that last example but Google doesn’t know that. Google searches for whatever I specify, not what I am thinking.
Note #3: the * operator works only on whole words, not parts of words.
Note #4: Using an asterisk between numbers may not work the way you expected. If the asterisk is between two numbers, it is interpreted as a mathematical symbol for “multiplied by.” A search of:
32 * 65
Will return “2080”
Search exactly as is (+)
Google employs synonyms automatically so that it finds more pages than you want. For instance, a search for the word genealogy also finds pages that specify “family history.” Sometimes this is a bit too much help. By attaching a + immediately before a word (remember, don’t add a space after the +), you are telling Google to match that word precisely as you typed it. Putting double quotes around a phrase after the + sign will do the same thing. For instance:
Generally, punctuation is ignored.
Special characters are generally ignored, including @#$%^&*()=+\ and other special characters.
Search within a specific website (site)
Google allows you to specify that your search results must come from a given website. For example, to search for past articles about Macintosh software on the http://www.eogn.com web site, specify a search of:
The above search specifies to search only the eogn.com web site for the specified search terms.
NOTE #4: The prefix of the web site should not be specified unless you wish to narrow the search to only a subset of the site. Generally speaking, do not specify www or similar letters before the site address of eogn.com unless you have a specific reason for doing so.
NOTE #5: You should not enter a space after the colon.
Advanced Search, the user-friendly method of searching for information
Many of the above tips have been captured in a “fill in the blanks” menu to be found at Google Advanced Search:
Click on the above image to view a live version of the Advanced Search page.
Most of the search terms mentioned in this article are included in the Advanced Search menu. There are a few exceptions, however. Even more help information can be found by going to the Advanced Search Tips.
Google used to have a link to Advanced Search displayed on its home page. However, that link was removed some time ago. So, how would you find Google’s Advanced Search? Yes, that’s right: search for it in Google!
Enter the following:
Google Advanced Search
That should show you a link to: https://www.google.com/advanced_search.
The Google Advanced Search page displays a user-friendly method of performing all the items I have described previously, along with even more. For instance:
“Find pages with… all these words:” works exactly the same as AND that was described earlier.
“Find pages with… this exact word or phrase:” works exactly the same as the quote marks explained earlier.
“Find pages with… none of these words:” works exactly the same as the minus sign explained earlier.
“Find pages with… site or domain:” works exactly the same as searching within a specific website as explained earlier.
You can find numerous other capabilities as well in the Google Advanced Search page. You do not have to memorize cryptic commands!
Finally, take a look in the lower left corner of the Google Advanced Search page. To find even more commands:
Yes, there are even more options available!
The best way to learn Google’s powerful search capabilities is to dive in and experiment. Try one thing. If that doesn’t work, try another. If that also does not work, try a third, fourth, fifth variation or even more. You cannot break anything so just experiment with all the options you can think of.
Google is your friend
Google is a very powerful tool, useful for finding genealogy information as well as for a myriad of other uses. By investing a bit of time now to learn a few of Google’s capabilities, you will receive “paybacks” of more information found about the topics you seek and fewer false hits to wade through. All of this and much more is available at your fingertips at http://www.google.com.