Web search engines work by storing information about many web pages,
which they retrieve from the page coding itself. These pages are
retrieved by a Web crawler (sometimes also known as a spider) — an
automated Web browser which follows every link on the site. The contents
of each page are then analyzed to determine how it should be indexed
(for example, words can be extracted from the titles, page content,
headings, or special fields called meta tags). Data about web pages are
stored in an index database for use in later queries. A query can be a
single word. The index helps find information as quickly as possible.
Some search engines, such as Google, store all or part of the source
page (referred to as a cache) as well as information about the web
pages, whereas others, such as AltaVista, store every word of every page
they find. This cached page always holds the actual search text
since it is the one that was actually indexed, so it can be very useful
when the content of the current page has been updated and the search
terms are no longer in it.
When a user enters a query into a search engine, the engine examines its
index and provides a listing of best-matching web pages according to its
criteria, usually with a short summary containing the document's title
and sometimes parts of the text. The index is built from the information
stored with the data and the method by which the information is indexed.
Two search engines are of use to genealogists: Mocavo (http://mocavo.com)
is strictly a genealogy search engine. Google is a general engine
and if you have an unusual name, it may be best to use this one.
Cyndi's List of genealogy search engines (http://www.cyndislist.com/search-engines/genealogy-search-engines/)
is helpful as she lists many of the genealogy search engines on the web.
Another search engine at Ancestry (http://ancestry.com)
is free to use, but you must be a member ($$) to follow through on the
A search engine specific to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints (Mormon) material and is very useful can be found at
https://familysearch.org/ . This is another free tool,
however not all their information is online yet. They add to it
daily or monthly, I'm not sure which.
Tech Tips for Better Searching
Here are some
suggestions for fine-tuning your search, no matter what engine you use:
Choose your words carefully.
When searching, consider words you
might use to describe a subject if you were a webmaster.
When looking for a phrase, choose the
"Phrase Search" option where applicable.
You'll often be searching for a word
pattern that appears just as you've typed it. Choose the "Phrase
Search" option in order to force that exact sequence. This is very
good way to look for a particular name.
When you want to exclude words from
the query use the minus (-) command in front of any word or phrase
to screen out that term.
Use the plus (+) command to identify
"must have" words or phrases. Most engines will add the + by default
so choose your words wisely.
Another way of targeting a specific
page is by conducting a document title search where engines offer
this option. All of the aforementioned operators apply when you
select "document title" with the added capability of searching for a
That's about it to
get you started.
For the Beginner