You may have tried Googling your ancestors before, but depending on how you did it, got no results. Did you know there’s a simple trick that can completely change the quality of results you get? 

Here’s an example. My great-great-grandfather was a carriage maker from 1880-1920, and his company was called “Lovejoy Brothers.” If I search Lovejoy Brothers carriages in Google, here’s what I get: 373,000 results, and none of them match my ancestors. 

The trick is that you need to search for results that contain your search term exactly. You do that by putting quotes around your search—that makes Google only give you results that include the exact word or phrase you search for. So, take a look. Instead of Lovejoy Brothers carriages, I tried this: “Lovejoy Brothers” carriages.

Wow! Instead of 300,000+ results that aren’t relevant to my family, this new search using quotation marks gave me 73 results, and the first five are all about my ancestors and their carriage making business. In fact, the second result provided an artifact I had never seen before, this beautiful business card from the early 1900s for their business! 

There are a few best practices for doing this that I’ve found via experimentation: 

  • Try lots of different exact search terms—be creative! Sometimes, it takes a while to get the right phrase or word combination. In my example, I wanted results that had “Lovejoy Brothers” exactly, but I put the word carriages without quotation marks. I’m sure there have been other firms called Lovejoy Brothers around the world in other industries, and I wanted to limit my search broadly to carriages.
  • If your ancestors lived in a small town, do this same quotation search for that town, and even include your ancestor’s last name. What would that look like? The Lovejoy Brothers operated their company in Chesterville, Maine, a town with a population of 1,000 people. So, I’d search something like “Chesterville” “Lovejoy.” And, wow, look at this: The first result is of a sleigh that the Lovejoy Brothers built in the 1800s that was sold at auction recently!
  • Try this exact keyword search for only the town name your ancestors lived in, and explore what comes up. I searched “Chesterville” Maine, and was thrilled when these beautiful antique postcards from 1905-1915 that are being sold on eBay came up. Antique postcards are goldmines, because they’ll often provide high-quality images of wherever your ancestors lived. 
  • If you don’t find anything, come back and try again in a year or two! Every day, people post and write more content that ends up on Google. So, even if there’s nothing on your ancestor today, imagine: might there be in 2, 5 or 10 years? 
  • Take this search tactic with a grain of salt. There is so much information on the Internet now that it’s existed for over two decades that could be relevant to your genealogy research—past eBay auctions, PDFs of old town records, newspaper clippings, Facebook posts, and more. But there also just may be nothing out there about your ancestor yet. That’s okay! It’s disappointing, and for this personal success with Lovejoy Brothers, I’ve had a dozen searches for other ancestors that yielded nothing. But it’s easy, takes minimal time, and has the potential for earth-shattering results, so give it a try!

Jack Palmer has done genealogy research since he was ten years old and loves writing about it for anybody who might enjoy his research stories and tips. He graduated from Duke University in May 2023, majoring in History and Psychology, and is the author of Helen & Frank: A Biography, a biography about his great-grandparents.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply