(+) Boolean Basics – Part #1

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.

NOTE #1: This is part #1 of a 2-part article.

Probably all genealogists have used Google for genealogy searches. For many of us, we go to https://www.google.com, enter the name of an ancestor, click on SEARCH and hope that a reference appears that points to the person we wish to find. Sometimes the name search works well, and sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, many genealogists give up and move on to something else. This is especially true with common names when a standard Google search may find hundreds of people with the same name. However, with just a little bit of effort, you may be able to quickly narrow the search to a single person or at least to a manageably small group of people. The trick here is to use some search terms defined 164 years ago.

164-year-old search terms? They didn’t have computers back then! True, but they did have mathematics, and computers are basically mathematical machines. Boolean algebra, as developed in 1854 by George Boole and described in his book An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, is a variant of ordinary elementary algebra differing in its values, operations, and laws. Instead of the usual algebra of numbers, Boolean algebra is the algebra of truth values 0 and 1. In the case of computers, we usually think in terms of the logic statements of true or false. A zero is false and a one is true, as in, “This search result is a TRUE match to the terms entered.” Whether we use one and zero or true and false, all search engines work on Boolean algebra.

By applying a bit of Boolean algebra to our searches, we can be much more specific about the information we seek. We can specify not only the words we seek, but also how those words relate to each other. For genealogists, the results can sometimes be amazing. By specifying Boolean search terms on Google or other search engines, we can sometimes find ancestors or other topics of interest that have eluded us previously.

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