Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Google’s Search Really a Single Field?

This is one of a series of articles about Google’s search interface and its application to genealogy.

Have you read Daniel M. Lynch's new book, Google Your Family Tree? If you don't have the book, you can learn many of the tips and tricks by doing a Google search for "Google" and "Genealogy." What you'll find is that Google is gradually introducing pseudo-multiple fields that are essential for many types of searches, including genealogy searches.

Name Fields

To account for an optional middle name and to simulate first and last name fields, separate the first and last names with an asterisk (*), like this:

Dan * Lawyer

Fortunately, Google is “smart” enough to look for “synonyms” like Daniel for Dan. Unfortunately, the same algorithm will match Attorney instead of Lawyer. To simulate of name fields, you must take another step. Include the names in reverse order to match web pages that list last name first:

(Dan * Lawyer) OR (Lawyer Dan)

To account for occurrences without middle names, also include the names without the asterisk:

(Dan * Lawyer) OR (Lawyer Dan) OR (Dan Lawyer)

It also occurs to me that we’re seeing results with just Dan. To assure we get Dan and Lawyer, put quotes around the names:

"Dan * Lawyer" OR "Lawyer Dan" OR "Dan Lawyer"

Unfortunately, using quotes disables synonym checking, so we’re no longer seeing Daniel. You’ll have to use additional searches to match other common spellings or forms of names.

Date Fields

Introduce a pseudo-date field to search for a range of dates. Separate the two dates by two dots like this: 1958..2009. To make certain the date applies to any of the three name arrangements, we add parentheses like so:

("Dan * Lawyer" OR "Lawyer Dan" OR "Dan Lawyer") 1958..2009

Other Pseudo Fields

Google provides a whole set of special words and prefixes which can be used in the single search field to invoke the same capabilities as its multiple-field advanced search. For example, if we wanted to search records only on FamilySearch.org, we could use the “site:” prefix:

("Dan * Lawyer" OR "Lawyer Dan" OR "Dan Lawyer") 1958..2009 site:familysearch.org

Single field or multi-field

Now, if you can’t remember how to invoke all these pseudo-fields inside Google’s single-field home page, you can use Google’s multi-field Advanced Search page and accomplish the same things. Q.E.D. These single-field special tips, tricks, weird punctuation rules, etc. create the equivalent of a multiple field search.

Think about it. Google, with dozens and dozens of search engineers—certainly many times more than FamilySearch has working on search—can’t figure out how to make a natural-language single-field search work for something as simple as searching for all forms of a person’s name and a date associated with that person. If Google can’t do it, what chance is there that FamilySearch can do it?!?

Google Genealogy Searches

If you’re serious about doing genealogy searches with Google, you’re better off using one of the many multi-field genealogy search forms that are available. These search forms remember all the arcane Google rules for you. You enter data in a simple, genealogy-oriented search form and the website generates the weird Google single-field search syntax for you.

One example of such a website is www.genealogy-search-help.com which gives this familiar-looking search form:

Genealogy Search Form for Google

Enter all the information you know and click Submit. Most Google genealogy search websites responds with several choices and this website is no exception. Pick a choice and the website suggests one or more Google searches for you to try. For the example above, some of the suggestions are:

For additional information about Google genealogy searches, see

  • Barry & Associates, Inc., Genealogy-Search-Help.com (www.genealogy-search-help.com : accessed 17 June 2009); this is the example website from above.
  • Easy Google Genealogy Searcher,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009); special forms that work instead of remembering all the special Google keywords and prefixes.
  • Easy Google Genealogy Searcher - Part 2,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009); more special forms.
  • Kathi Reid, “Using Google in Genealogy Searches,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009).
  • Kathi Reid, “Google in Genealogy Searches,” Ancestor Search …Find your family history (www.searchforancestors.com : accessed 17 June 2009).
  • Kimberly Powell, “Google Genealogy Style,” About.com (http://genealogy.about.com : accessed 17 June 2009).

For more help with Google Search, see


  1. Thanks, Ancestry Insider,
    The series on Google Genealogy Search is a valuable resource that is helping me with my patrons at the Nauvoo Family History Center.

  2. Glad to see that many others continue to recognize the power of using Google for family history research. Among all the cross linking in your detailed posting, I was surprised you didn't also link to my book - Google Your Family Tree for those who may wish to learn more and buy. In the book I not only share the tips, but explain how they work and why they are so particularly valuable to genealogy. We're all so lucky to have such a great tool available to us FOR FREE!! That's the best part.

    Dan Lynch
    Author, Google Your Family Tree


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