Finding Ancestors for Free

Simon / Pixabay
Simon / Pixabay

When I decided to create a free online genealogical service, I wanted to make sure to expose the methods a person can use to uncover their family and ancestors. These are methods I found useful when building my family tree and helping others build theirs. In this article, I will be focusing on Google Search and the various ways to fine tune your search to receive maximum results.

Let’s start with an example. If you have the name of an ancestor, let’s call her Philomina Oswalda Humdinger, you might begin your search on Google like this:



The results will look something like this:


Unfortunately, a list of completely useless and unrelated search results.

A way to alter your search in hopes of better results is to place your ancestor’s name in quotes, like this:


Since the quotation marks force Google to look only for these names, in the order they are written, the number of results will change. With this example, you’ve saved yourself many torturous hours of looking through all of the results in hopes of finding any little bit of information.


Let’s try another, more in depth example. Say you have a relative with a very common name like John Smith. Google has found so many results that you may not know where to start.


Here’s where using a middle name might come in handy. Let’s say your John Smith has the middle name Michael. Enter John Michael Smith into Google and notice the shift in results.

This gives plenty of hits but most of the people listed are alive and some you can tell right off that they are not your John Michael Smith. Another way of paring down the results is to use your ancestor’s birth date/year. Now enter, John Michael Smith 1800 and look at the results:


These results look a little closer to who you’re looking for. If after a quick scan, you believe that none of these results is your John Michael Smith, remember you can put your ancestor’s name in quotation marks and look at those refined results.

If you decide to stick it out and look through the results, only to find minutes or hours later that you can’t find your John Michael Smith, there is another advanced search option you can use. Try adding the death date to your search – either by listing your ancestor’s years (1800-1850) or by only using the date of death (which is especially helpful if you’re unsure of your ancestor’s date of birth). Here are some examples.

Searching with both birth and death dates:


Searching with only the death date:


Searching with some derivation of the word birth along with that date:


Or searching with some derivation of the word death:


If you don’t know the birth or death, you can try searching for your ancestor by using their wife’s name or maybe even one of his children’s names. You can just insert that relative’s name in or even outside of quotes after his name and take a look at the results:


Should this not prove helpful in your search, try listing a place the person might have lived, where they were born, or where they died along with the year of the event. Like this:



Now, let’s look at some more advanced ways using Google to search for your relatives.

If you’re not getting the kind of results that you want, try using Google’s Advanced Search feature. To do this, find the black gear with the dropdown in the upper right corner of the webpage and select “Advanced search”:


Once you move to the Advanced Search page, fill in the blanks with the appropriate search information. If you want to search for your relative on a specific website, simply type the URL into the “site or domain” blank. This gives you the opportunity to narrow your search down to specific genealogy websites.


Now, just click the search button and look at your results:

Play around with the various options in Google’s Advanced Search page until you find the results you are looking for. By using the simple searches and the advanced search features in Google, hopefully, you’ll find exactly the ancestors you are looking for.

Chuck Herrick

Charles Herrick is the Founder and CEO of Full Family Tree, LLC. Since founding the company two years ago, Chuck has drawn on his twenty plus years experience in ecommerce and information systems in order to shape his dream of a free social genealogy platform into

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