Sunday, 14 September 2014

Be alert (and other geneagoogle tips)

I’m guessing you use Google in your genealogy research. But are there any new tricks to help you search for your family history? Here are some ideas.

A few days ago I posted on a couple of Facebook groups – it was about a talk being given in Newcastle, New South Wales, by the makers of a documentary looking at the lives of Irish ‘famine brides’ -orphans shipped to Australia - and convict women.

I couldn’t go. I’m on the wrong side of the Pacific. But I thought my fellow Aussie genealogists might be able to. So I was surprised to get a couple of comments saying ‘I didn’t know it was on, and I live in Newcastle’. Which is a real shame. But it got me thinking – how did I, living in the UK, know about an event taking place all those miles away, when people there had no idea it was happening?

The wrong kind of convict (S. Olkowicz. CC attrib 2.5 via Wikimedia)
The answer – Google Alerts. I had one set up for convict Australia. In fact I have one for convict Australia -cichlids, since I got fed up with being notified about fish for sale. (Stripey blighters from Central America, since you ask.) I’ve got several alerts set up, mostly to do with genealogy or history, and they’re just one way I keep up with the latest news, along with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Do you use Google Alerts? They’re easy to set up, but you’ll need a Google account, which most people already have. Here’s a quick how-to if you’d like to get your own alerts.

Log into your Google account. Go to or click (I’m guessing you’re online if you’re reading this). You’ll see a box like this:

Type in what you’d like Google to search the web for and select show options to customise what information you want delivered, how often and where to:

 … And create your alert.

This will keep you updated on anything on the web with the words (for instance) ‘worldwide’ and ‘genealogy’ in it; if you just want news about the exact phrase "worldwide genealogy" use double quotes (like I did there) as you would with any Google exact phrase search.

I expect there are much more sophisticated things you can do with alerts, but this suits me fine. I haven’t tried any other Google search tricks with it.

But in case you need a reminder, here are the search symbols (there’s probably a better geeky term for them) which I find useful for my own geneagoogling:

To search for an exact phrase: use double quotes at the beginning and end
"worldwide genealogy"
For two or more words which must turn up in the results, but not necessarily in that order, use AND
genealogy AND worldwide
To search for two words or terms at the same time, use OR (this will find family history and family tree)
family history OR tree
To exclude a word which might fill your search with unwanted results, use a minus sign (I used this to find my ‘ghostly’ 3xgreat-grandmother)
"sarah marshall" -finding
To search one specific website, use site:
To search within a range of numbers – now this could have been invented for us! – use two dots
births london 1850..1865
To find a phrase where you can’t remember some of the words, use the asterisk wildcard
who * you think * are

Have you got any search tips to share with us?

Happy geneagoogling!


  1. I must revisit google alert, I did set up a few alerts a while back, but haven't used it to its full potential, thanks for the reminder.

  2. Thanks for sharing! Our homework from last week's #genchat was to set up a google alert. I've never used google alerts before so this is a great post for me to refer to when I set a few up.

    1. Genie telepathy! Isn't that great? Glad to be able to help.

  3. I have used Google alerts for a while, but they stopped about the time Google Reader stopped. I went back and reset them and filter the emails into a folder. I use Google alerts to seek posts about places and surnames. I do the same with eBay alerts. You never know what treasures will appear.

    1. Ah, now that's a thought, eBay alerts. On the other hand... (looks in purse) I may need to proceed with caution.

  4. I have used Google alerts in the past but not to great effect.
    I will have to take another look.

    1. Best of luck, Hilary. I think I'll give mine a quick refresher session, too.

  5. Thank you for such a helpful post. I must look into setting up Google Alerts.

    1. It's a pleasure, Sue. I hope they're useful.

  6. Good advice! I have been using Google Alerts ever since I read about them in Dan Lynch's brilliant book Google Your Family Tree, which I mentioned in Recommended Reading etc. (Reader GeneaMeme).

    1. Thanks, Judy. And thanks for the reminder about Dan Lynch's book and your post. There's always more to learn.


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