Effective Search Techniques

Some search basics:

  1. Typing in several keywords will usually get you close to what you need, unless they're very common words. E.g., Conrad Rice or Catholic Church Blairsville.
  2. Use quotation marks to search for a phrase (your results will contain only pages which have exactly this phrase appearing exactly this way. E.g., "Conrad Rice" or "Catholic Church Blairsville".
  3. Some search engines allow you to do Boolean searching (logical searches using AND, OR, and NOT) to refine your search. E.g., if I'm looking for Conrad Rice, and I know that I don't want the one who lived in Massachusetts, my search might look like this: Conrad AND Rice NOT Massachusetts.
  4. Some search engines allow you to guarantee that a particular word appears on a webpage, or to reject all pages that have a particular word (this is similar to Boolean "NOT") - using plus and minus signs. E.g., I could do the same search as in #3 as: +Conrad +Rice -Massachusetts. This will result in all pages which have the words Conrad and Rice in them, but do not have Massachusetts in them. If I had typed +Conrad Rice -Massachusetts, I'd get all pages which have Conrad, and don't have Massachusetts on them--those which have Rice in them would be ranked more highly, but results wouldn't necessarily include Rice, just Conrad and not Massachusetts.

Using major search engines:

Using genealogy search engines:

Being a good information consumer:

Be sure to evaluate the information you find online - it may be conscientious and careful research or transcription, or it may be garbage. Some things to check:

  • Does the information have a primary source listed?
  • Is it corroborated elsewhere?
  • Is an individual willing to take responsibility for its presence and/or format? (Is there someone you could e-mail or contact about this information listed on the website?)
  • Has the author taken the time to explain oddities or irregularities in the data? Acknowledged discrepancies? Asked for corrections or additional information?
  • Is there a disclaimer on the page?


As with any research, be sure to give credit where credit is due.

Review the Library of Congress Copyright Office guidelines (particularly the section on "fair use"). For things published or created after January 1, 1978, copyright lasts the life of the author plus 70 years. For pre-1978 items, it is usually 95 years from first publication of copyright, renewable for up to 95 years.

Many authors and some publishers are happy to have you use their work for free, provided you've fully cited it, if you ask for permission to do so. Some will charge a fee.