Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pursuing Elusive Ancestors in Search Engines

For some time now, I've done a stupid thing - in the interests of time, I've considered Google as the premier search engine for web pages, news, images, etc., and really have used only Google. That was a mistake. Let me illustrate this with an example:

One of my most "elusive ancestors" in Ranslow Smith - born 1805 in NY, died after 1870 somewhere. He married Mary/Polly Bell in Jefferson County NY before 1830, and they had a son, Devier James Smith - my great-great-grandfather (Della (Smith) Carringer's father). The Ranslow Smith family resided in Henderson, Jefferson County NY until about 1848, then in Dodge County WI until about 1866, and then in Bedford, Taylor County, IA (there in 1870 census, married to a second wife, Julia Johnson).

I've posted several times about Ranslow Smith - his house in Henderson NY, his land in Dodge County WI, his inn in Dodge County WI, and the Smith Family Bible.

Now about the searches: I added a Yahoo! toolbar and search box to my IE7 screen recently and used it this morning just to see if the search results were different from using the Google search box. Then I decided to check MSN and AltaVista to see if they provide different results.

Using Google, Yahoo!, MSN Live Search and AltaVista to search for the string "ranslow smith" I found -

* Google -- 51 claimed matches (actually 34), including 18 from Genea-Musings, 1 for my web page, 1 for Historic houses in Jefferson county NY, 3 About:Genealogy forum messages, 3 GenForum messages, 6 for Rootsweb matches (including 3 CVGS site matches), and 2 evident "phony" matches in StretegicBoard and BendyRules (whatever they are - don't go there!).

* Yahoo! -- 41 claimed matches (actually 12), including 2 from Genea-Musings, 1 for my web page, 1 for Historic houses, 1 About:Genealogy forum message, 2 Genforum messages, 2 Rootsweb messages, and 3 evident "phony" matches in Strategicboard and CriminalsCheck.

* MSN LiveSearch -- 7 claimed matches (actually 18), including 7 from Genea-Musings, 1 for my web page, 1 for Historic houses, 3 About:Genealogy forum messages, 1 GenForum message and 6 Rootsweb matches (3 from CVGS web site).

* AltaVista -- 41 claimed matches (actually 39), including 23 from Genea-Musings, 1 for my web page, 1 for Historic houses, 1 About:Genealogy message, 2 GenForum messages, 7 Rootsweb entries (4 from CVGS site), 3 from Strategicboard and 1 from CriminalsCheck. This is similar to Google.

For the Google, MSN and AltaVista searches, I counted the matches covered by the "Show more results from 'web page'" link.

I know that there are more Search engines available, but these are the ones I chose to use. Do you have a better one? Please tell me and I'll add it to my list above.

The lesson learned here is that the different search engines find fairly similar results, but often vary in the number of matches found on a given web site. Of course, other searches may provide a unique match - and therefore a researcher needs to check many search engines, not just Google.

UPDATED 4:45 PM: John, Devorah and Deb in Comments have suggested a number of other search engines. Thanks, guys and gals!

I used all of the search engines suggested, and found no additional matches that Google, MSN and Yahoo! found, at least for "ranslow smith."


John said...

Don't forget at Gogole to search both Google Books, and Google Groups. Click on the "More" link at the top-left, and select either "books" or "groups".

There is one hit for Ranslow under "groups", and two hits under "books" which appear to be two copies of the same book.

There are some 'metasearch' engines that search multiple search engines at once, like Dogpile.

Edmonston Alston said...

You can also use dogpile.com, which searches various search engibes simultaneously and reports the results from each.

Deb said...

Hi Randy,

I love metasearch engines and am always interested to see what percentage of returns overlap, the different ranking of url results (#2 on this one is #15 on that one ..) and of course, am ever hopeful that one, lone "ah ha" find will come up on one of them in the mix! :)

Used to use jux2.com to compare Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask. They add ranking, so even if same url comes up, it may be ranked differently.

My new research love (in general, but also for genealogy) is a metasearch engine that's still in Beta - but available for use now. It's called zuula.com.

Typical simple or detailed search abilities and brings back each search engine's results on their own page. Your display gives you "tabs" to select which you want to view. You get: Google, Yahoo, MSN, Gigablast, Exalead, Alexa, Accoone and Mojeek. (for web searches). It uses Yahoo, Google, Topix and MSN for news searches .. and Google, Yahoo, MSN, Pixsy and Flickr for image searches. Think there's a blog search too?

Took a moment to run your search name and got back: Google (12) - Yahoo (41) - MSN (8) - Gigablast (2) - Exalead (1) - Alexa (4) - Accoone (1) and Mojeek (3).

Only drawback I've found so far with metasearch engines in general is with multiple search terms, esp if 1 or more of them are "double words". Might be because of different "logic" programming or some such?

Anyway .. you're so right re: using multiple search engines .. and for that matter .. switching up our search terms and running it say, 3 or 4 ways. As with search engine differences with same terms .. so also .. we can get different results for say a "surname" and "place" vs place then surname. Nothing like trying to think like machines! lol

First time commenting and I just wrote a book! (sorry about that) But I love "the hunt" of what we all do .. so different ways to skin the rabbit, so to speak .. in this case, comparing results on search engines .. jumped out at me.

Love reading your blog. Thanks! :)


sajosovic said...

Why not try Easy Google Genealogy Searcher http://www.searchforancestors.com/google/searcher.html and SEARCH NAVIGATOR http://www.kuijsten.de/navigator/

Travis LeMaster said...

I've found Google Book and Patent search to be very helpful in adding to my family history. Google Books continues to add more and more libraries to it's database, and is a great finding aid for out of print books. Google Patent has revealed a few tidbits about inventive ancestors and relatives that I didn't know had those types of skills.