Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What is the Best Place to leave "Cousin Bait?"

Greta Koehl used the term "Cousin Bait" last month in her post Online Trees about the purpose of posting online family tree data. At least, that was the first use of the term I've seen published - an excellent term! Her point was that putting a family tree online in a database or on a web page may help induce distant cousins, who share your ancestry, into contacting you and perhaps provide more information about the common ancestral families.

There has been an interesting thread the past two weeks on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list titled Publishing Online: What Do You Do and Why?. Connie Sheets started the thread, and it has about 40 responses to date. Daniela Moneta did a study of Googling a name and location known to be on many websites, and found that:

"Using a simple search on Google, the method most people use, didn't come up with all of her sites and no WorldConnect. Using the simple search on Google, WeRelate came up as the first two hits, came up third, then, and then her freepages on I used as my test search 'Richard Taylor genealogy Yarmouth' (without quotes)."

Daniela also noted that while the "advanced search" features of Google can be used to refine searches, the average person using Google is probably unaware of those advanced search features. I think that's probably right.

I decided to try my own search results.

I have parts of my genealogy database on Ancestry Member Trees, the wiki, the MyHeritage site,,,,,, a users web page, an ancestral name list on the CVGS web page, some online message boards and mailing list posts, plus all of my blog posts (and probably several other online trees). I do not have a database on Rootsweb WorldConnect, but I will choose a person that is on WorldConnect (I checked!).

I chose to search for this string:

humphrey white genealogy glocester (no quotes)

The results show 28,400 matches, including in the top 10:

* #1, #2 and #3 are from Genea-Musings
* #4 is from a web page by Mary A. Sorenson
* #5 and #6 is for the Wing Family of America site
* #7 is from a web page by Randy Seaver
* #8 is a genealogy page from - not specifically Humphrey White
* #9 is a family list of Convicts to Australia - not specifically Humphrey White
* #10 is a name index created by PAF - not specifically Humphrey White

If I search for:

"humphrey white" genealogy glocester (with quotes)

The results show only 54 matches (only 19 shown), including in the top 20:

* #1 to 7 are the same as above
* #8 is my database from
* #9 is an repost of one of my Genea-Musings posts (hmm, this site reposts all of my Genea-Musings posts - polite request to be sent soon, nasty letter to follow?)
* #10 is from an text - not specifically Humphrey White
* #11 is a article about Glocester RI that excerpted some of my Humphrey White data
* #12 is a page on that is the specific Humphrey White
* #13 is another page from Mary A. Sorenson's web page
* #14 is a page on Martha Soule from
* #15 is Ancestors of Seaver from the Chula VFista Genealogical Society web page (my data)
* #16 is a page that captured some of my Humphrey White data
* #17 is a page for Arnold White that captured some of my Humphrey White data
* #18 is a page that captured some of my Humphrey White data
* #19 is from an text - not specifically Humphrey White

That's all - no WorldConnect data, and none of my other online databases, including (although I posted that only about three weeks ago).

What if I did a last name first search for:

"white humphrey" genealogy glocester (with quotes)

There were 6 results - and only one new site:

* #6 was a listing with the correct Humphrey White, but not quoting my site.

I could do another search for Humphrey White and his wife Sybil Kirby, as in:

"humphrey white" "sybil kirby" glocester (with quotes)

There were 56 matches (only 13 listed), including:

* #1 #2 and #3 were my Genea-Musings posts
* #4 and #5 were from the Wing Family In America pages
* #6 was the Mary A. Sorenson page on
* #7 was a page for a Humphrey White (all data private, not this one)
* #8 and #9 were two Rootsweb WorldConnect pages for the correct Humphrey and Sybil
* #10 was the page for Martha Soule
* #11 was the page for Arnold White
* #12 was the Ancestors of Seaver page on the CVGS site (my data)
* #13 was the page that captured some of my data.

In retrospect, I don't think that I have posted about this couple on the message boards or mailing lists. My experience is that message board and mailing list posts do show up on Google searches for names and places.

That's enough for now - here are my takeaways from this study:

* Putting specific family information (names, dates, places, etc) on blogs and web pages creates good "cousin bait"
* Putting specific family information in online family tree databases does not return many matches, and those matches are usually not near the top of the list
* Using quote marks about names really narrows the search well. As a researcher, I will spend some time searching 19 matches, but usually won't go past 40 or 50 matches.

Of course, people can search for specific persons in online family trees effectively - this study was only to see what the Google search engine would find. Your results may be different!

What lessons did you learn from this little study?

Have you done your own study like this? If so, please tell us about it!


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Very useful post, Randy, Thank you. I will do a followup when I return from vacation.

Bill ;-)
Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

Joan Miller (Luxegen) said...

Hi Randy,
I run analytics on my genealogy blogs and note what search terms are bringing folks in (and where they come from)...and I have 'Cousin bait' in trees and forums all over the web like you do. I post "skeleton family trees" at Ancestry which works very well for bringing in connections. A "skeleton Family tree" is a small twig or branch but not the full family tree. Cousins keep finding me (especially through Ancestry but also through direct contact on the blogs) so I know all of the effort works :)

Looking forward to meeting you at Jamboree.

Calgary, Canada

Noah said...

Great post Randy. I agree that posting information online is a great way to find cousins. I'm curious what sort of results you'd see using our new public discussions feature. We essentially created this feature for the exact use case you presented here - so that these discussions about your relatives would appear in Google searches for other relatives to find.

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

I find that leaving questions on genforum and ancestry is like "cousin bait". Those posts on such types of bulletin boards often show up on Google searches, too. Last week I tried searching for an ancestor on Google, Bing and Dogpile and I blogged about the results, too. Some new things showed up on Bing that I had never seen before.

Greta Koehl said...

Thank you for the mention, Randy, but thanks especially for delving into the topic of what the best ways to show up on searches are. I have thought about this and and done comparative searches in the past, but will have to check it out again. Previously I did get some results on WorldConnect (not the top ones, though), but that tended to be for some very unusual names. (I made up the term "cousin bait," but that doesn't mean that someone hasn't used it before.)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the power of using the plus sign (+) and minus sign (-) while Googling. For instance, if you search for ...
humphrey +white
... you will always find both names on the same page, regardless of the order of the terms (Humphrey White or White, Humphrey) and even if the two terms are not next to each other on the page. You might find a relative named White whose mother's maiden name was Humphrey, thus hinting at a namesake relationship and opening a new, fruitful avenue of research.

If the results show tons of pages about a Humphrey White who (for instance) plays cello for the Seattle Symphony, you could force Google to ignore those pages by using the minus sign:
humphrey +white -cello -seattle

Thanks for the blog. Keep up the good work.