Monday, April 28, 2008

Vietnam Virtual Wall

The Virtual Vietnam Wall
Visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D. C. with its 58,256 names carved into black granite is a powerful and emotional experience. The sheer size of the Wall is a sobering reminder of how many young people paid the ultimate sacrifice during this war.

Every time I have been to the Wall, I realize it is not just the Wall by itself but seeing the people who interact with the Wall that makes the visit so poignant. Seeing people placing flowers against the Wall under their loved one's name, or seeing people rubbing a carved name from the Wall onto paper to take home, or seeing people standing in silence as they touch a name on the Wall reminds me of the suffering of the loved ones left behind.

I didn't think it would be possible for the Virtual Wall to have the same emotional impact as as visit to the Granite Wall in D.C. But I was wrong.

The Virtual Vietnam Wall at turns the 58,256 names engraved onto the Wall into real people with real stories and loved ones they left behind. Just like at the Granite Wall, it is the interaction with people that makes the Virtual Wall poignant. Short stories of their lives written by those who loved them, photographs of forever-young faces, and loving tributes make the visit to the Virtual Wall very poignant. Many of the tributes hold a lot of emotion in a very few words: "The dad I never knew", or "He saved my life", or "I still miss you, brother".

Peter Krogh, a National Geographic photographer, took more than 1,500 photographs of the Wall and stitched them together to create one digital replica of the memorial. Footnote made each name link to the person's personnel records and casualty reports supplied by the National Archives. To view the whole Wall, slide from one side to the other to see the sheer magnitude of the 140 panels that make the Vietnam Wall.

Searching is easy. Choose any of of 24 categories - you don't need to supply a name. Search for a soldier, or for all soldiers who died in one town, or for those who died in a certain year, or any combination of the 24 filters.

Some of the Tributes
Lewis Albanese
Thomas Joseph Blanchard
Gerald Alan Cahela
Thomas Carlisle
Harry Cramer
Steven Dean Gundolf
Norman Walter Heck Jr
George Henry Jourdenais
Roger Edward Jozwiak
Darwin Lee Judge
Fredrick Ellis Larsen
Chester Lee
William Thomas Perkins Jr
Leroy James Westra
David Clark Williams
Delvin Wilson

Monday, April 21, 2008

Google Personalized Search

Google Personalized Search means that Google gives you unique search results based on your Web History. If you and I are both logged into our Google accounts and we both have Web History, we might get different Google search results even if we used identical keywords.

You may have been getting Google Personalized Searches and not realized it. How do you know if you have Personalized Search? If you're signed into your Google account and do a search, you will see these links on the top right :

Web History - My Account - Sign Out

Google Personalized Search changes your search results by giving a boost in the search results to the types of sites you have previously searched for and selected from Google search results, especially if you have visited these sites often. Google will also boost sites and pages that Google's algorithm determines are related to those you are already visited.

There are actually three things that influence your Personalized Search results:

Personalization is subtle—at first you may not notice any difference. But over time, as the search engine learns your preferences, you'll start to notice some differences.

Here is an example of how Personalized Search could work. Three different people may do a search using the keywords Civil War. The first person's web history shows a majority of genealogy searches and this person will get Civil War search results with a genealogy slant. The second person's web history shows that they are mostly interested in Civil War re-enactments and they will get served search results that are re-enactment related. The third person's web history shows that they are mostly interested in history, and, you guessed it, their results will have an emphasis on Civil War history. Subtle but each person received better results for their needs.

Sometimes, Personalized Search is very helpful in genealogy research by helping us find sites that are similar to sites we regularly frequent. I'm usually pleased to have my search results have a slight genealogy emphasis.

But sometimes having the sites you regularly visit always appear at the top of the search results may get in the way of finding new sites. In that case, log out of your Google account (top right link) and perform the search again to get slightly different results.

To see the difference in your search results with Personalized Search, do a little experiment. Search for the keyword genealogy while logged into your Google account. Take note of the first ten results. Then, log out of your Google account and perform the same search again. Note the top ten results and compare these results to your first search. When I do this, only two of the ten results are the same. Since my results are unique to me, you may find something completely different.

If you want Personalized Search and don't have it, all you need is a Google Account. If you have an existing Google Account and want to activate Web History to enable Personalized Search, visit

One additional point to make: I've been on RootsWeb mailing lists where people suggest to search for a particular term on Google and look at the "4th result". Now that you understand about Personalized Search, you will see that my 4th result and someone else's 4th result will probably be completely different. Better to give the name of the site that you see as the "4th result".

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Find Living People

Searching for living people may not seem to be genealogy related, but there are times when it can be part of a family history search.

Sometimes long-lost family members can help fill out branches on the family tree and shed light on ancestors. Sometimes finding an unknown biological parent can be the starting point for a genealogy search. Sometimes you just want to reconnect with family and friends with whom you have lost touch.

If you know the person's name, here are some places to do an online search for a living person.


Google has built-in U.S. phonebook. Just type phonebook: into the Google searchbox followed by name and state to get the Google whitepages. There is a space between phonebook: and the name.

phonebook: john doe ny

Use any combination of these terms for the Google phonebook:

  • First name (or first initial), last name, city (state is optional)
  • First name (or first initial), last name, state
  • First name (or first initial), last name, area code
  • First name (or first initial), last name, zip code
  • Phone number, including area code
  • Last name, city, state
  • Last name, zip code

White Pages

  • or - U.S. and Canada white page database. If you can't find someone in the WhitePages, note the Find Neighbors tab - if you know where someone used to live, you can contact neighbors to see if they know a forwarding address.
  • Zaba Search - U. S. people search engine. Gives birth date, address, city, state & phone number.
  • ZoomInfo - Click on the People Search tab. Find people by their their job or employer.

Social Networks

  • Facebook - Search for people in this online directory that connects people through social networks. Contact person through the website.

  • MySpace - Search for people and contract through website.

  • LinkedIn - Search for people in this business-oriented social networking site. Contact through website.

Birthdate Finder

  • Birthday Finder If you know a person's name and birth date, you can use this database to look for town and state. Then use to get detailed address and phone number.

Commercial People Finders
If you can't find people using the free databases, you may have more luck with the commercial databases.

  • US Search. - U.S. results include name, aliases, age, date of birth, address history, unlisted phone numbers, relatives, and more. This is not a basic white pages search - their database contains billions of public records online that go back over 20 years. The search is free.

Want more ideas to find a living person? To look for long-lost friends, mother, father, cousins or other family, try the free Person Finder, a step by step guide to finding people.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Comparative Analysis of Google Search Terms

I'd like to follow through on the question AncestryInsider posed at the Genea-Musings GuestBook in reference to my article about The Genealogy Search Trend on Google.

Ancestry Insider: To followup Kathi's article on Genealogy searching on Google, someone needs to do a comparative analysis of other search terms. Did all hobbies decrease in like fashion? It would be interesting to compare genealogy against other hobbies such as gardening and stamp collecting. Did people's interests move from hobbies to some other aspect of their lives? Besides hobbies, maybe you could look at other categories such as employment, finances, religion, politics, etc. Does the decrease demonstrate increased competition from other search websites? Maybe a majority of search terms have seen a decrease.

The Ancestry Insider wants to know if all hobbies decreased in like fashion:

Above is a comparison chart of search trend for different hobbies over the past four years. The keyword genealogy (blue), is the only hobby to show a relative decrease in searches. The other hobbies do not show a decline, although gardening (red), as would be expected, does show large up-and-down seasonal variations in the chart. Yet gardening still ends in the same relative position on the chart over the years. Scrapbooking (green) also shows a relatively steady line across the years. Stamp collecting (gold) shows a steady line but relatively lower than others on the chart - barely visible at the bottom of the chart.

The Ancestry Insider asks if people's interests moved from hobbies to some other aspect of their lives:

Above is a chart that show a comparison of searches for genealogy (blue), stocks (red), politics (gold), and religion (green) as search words. Religion (green) and genealogy (blue) both show a decline, while stocks and politics remain steady. None of these hobbies seem to have filled the hole left by the decrease in genealogy searching. However, because these charts show relative numbers, genealogy appears to have less of a relative decline than when compared to other aspects.

The Ancestry Insider asks if the decrease demonstrates an increased competition from other search websites:

Google's U.S. search referral percentage has increased from 52% in 2005 to 64% in 2007 to the new all time high of 67.25% in 2008. So, the decrease in the keyword genealogy is not caused by increased search competition. Google has been gaining in searches every year.

The Ancestry Insider asks if perhaps a majority of search terms have seen a decrease:

Hard to say since Google does not release absolute numbers. And Google Trends only releases information on the largest and broadest of search keywords.

I don't think an analysis of Google Trends shows the reason for the decrease in the Google keyword search of genealogy. The other hobby keywords that I tried are not declining. The other "aspects of life" keywords I tried are not declining. Google is growing every year in the number of searches relative to other search engines. Google Trends is not meant to provide detailed analysis - just broad strokes. There is really not enough information to draw a conclusion as to why genealogy is declining as a keyword on Google Trends.

However, you may be interested in the 2007 Year-End Google Zeitgeist which shows the fastest growing and fastest falling Google Search keywords in 2007. You will see a lot of keywords that have increased, but there is nothing to show a "cause and effect" of some keywords rising while genealogy is falling.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Google's WildCard in Genealogy Searches

A wildcard in a Google search query is indicated by an asterisk * and will match one or more whole words.

Name Search

For genealogy searches, the asterisk * is one way to search for a name that has a middle name or initial. Your ancestor's name may be Henry Aloysius Smith and in his lifetime he may have signed all legal documents as Henry A. Smith. A Google search for Henry * Smith will return results for both Henry Aloysius Smith and Henry A. Smith. Unfortunately, It will also return results for Henry Benjamin Smith, Henry B. Smith, Henry C. Smith, and so on; but it will not return results for Henry Smith (listed on a website with no middle name or initial).

So, in order to search for webpages that contain his name with a middle name or initial AND his name without either: Henry Aloysius Smith, Henry A. Smith or Henry Smith, use the query :

"Henry * Smith" OR "Henry Smith"

Be sure to leave a space before and after the asterisk. You can search for phrases with or without quotation marks, but using the quotation marks gives better results than leaving them off. Quotation marks force Google to find the exact phrase within the quotes, except for the wildcard word, especially if the wildcard word is the first or last word in the search terms.

Place Name Search

To search for a missing word in a phrase in a place name, you can again use Google's wildcard operator. If you know one word of a two word place name, you can use the wild card search for the second word. You may have found an old document where part of the name is illegible , or you might not be able to remember the whole name. Put the place name in quotes and substitute the wild card for the missing word. For example, search for

"Glen *, Pennsylvania" or " * Springs, Pennsylvania".

Double Asterisk

An asterisk replaces one missing word in a query. You can use a double asterisk to replace two missing words. You can use as many asterisks in a search query as you'd want but the more actual words you're able to supply in your search phrase, the more likely you are to find what you're searching for.

Whole Worlds Only

Wildcard searches in Google work for whole words or phrases only. Google doesn't support a search in which an asterisk indicates a part or extension of a word: John* will not find Johnson in Google. Google does use stemming technology -- when appropriate, Google will search not only for your search terms, but also for words that are similar to some or all of those terms. For example, if you search for power, it will return searches for power, powers, powered, and powerful.

Google Genealogy Search Techniques

Try the Easy Google Genealogy Searcher which puts advanced Google features on one page with suggested keywords and advice about how each feature is useful for genealogy searches.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Genealogy Search Trend on Google

Randy at GeneaMusing's has done a series on the decline in traffic at many of the top 50 genealogy sites based on their Alexa ranking. These include Genealogy Link Sites, Genealogy Social Network sites, and Commercial Genealogy sites.

I thought I would take a look at the Google trend of searches over the past few years for the keyword genealogy.

Google Trends analyzes Google web searches to compute how many searches have been done for a term relative to the total number of searches done on Google over a period of years. The declining blue line shows that relative to other searches, genealogy has declined as a search word supporting Randy's findings of declining web traffic at top genealogy sites.

Google doesn't supply numbers for the search traffic and the chart is for the relative number of searches, not absolute numbers. But I was really surprised to see the downward trend.

The bottom line on the chart measures the number of Google News References to genealogy. Some of the spikes mention the introduction of large databases.

ProGenealogists Announces the 50 Most Popular Genealogy Websites

Kory L. Meyerink, an adjunct professor of family history at Brigham Young University, felt an objective list of genealogy sites based on web traffic was needed. Why base a top 50 genealogy list on web traffic? Because the most useful genealogy sites will have the most traffic.

The methodology of combining results from different sites that measure web traffic is a pretty clever way to determine results. Since the different web-traffic sites use different methods of measurement, combining results should smooth out any outliers. To get the top 50 genealogy sites, he merged the rankings from:

  • - Alexa measures website traffic from those users who have the Alexa toolbar installed. If Alexa's user base is a fair sample of the Internet user population, then Alexa results for genealogy sites should be pretty accurate.
  •, - Quantcast combines directly measured audience data with panel-based estimates. In other words, it surveys a sample of people and extrapolates just like polls do.
  • - uses multiple sources, including ISPs, the Compete Toolbar and opt-in panels - a combination of what Alexa and Quantcast do.
  • Google PageRank - Google measures the number of overall links to a web page as an indicator of an individual page's value. This value is called Google Page Rank or PR, and is visible on Google's Toolbar when you visit a website. The higher the Google PR generally, the higher the website appears in Google's search engine rankings.

While Alexa, Quantcast and Compete measure website traffic, Google PR measures incoming links to the site. Kory also used link directories (subjective by nature) such as Kip Sperry’s Link List, Genealogy Sleuth List, and Yahoo and Google Directories to compile the list.

Here is the press release. Explore and enjoy.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – 2 April 2008.
ProGenealogists, Inc. released today the results of a study that identifies, for the first time, the 50 most popular genealogy websites.

The popularity of genealogy on the Internet has long been established, but for the first time, it’s possible to say which of the thousands of genealogy sites are the most popular in this growing field. The list uses a “places rated” approach to average the website traffic rankings from four major web analytics companies.

The top two websites actually tied for first place and are well-known to web genealogists: and its sister site, Third place, however, is the somewhat lesser known whose popularity is attributed to its many users in Europe and Israel. Next is, with, provided by the LDS Church, rounding out the top five.

“The importance of this list for genealogists cannot be underestimated,” said Natalie Cottrill, ProGenealogists’s President and CEO. “If a site is popular, as measured by
actual traffic, it must be providing useful information, and genealogists are always seeking more sites to help with their research. Everyone will find sites on this list they have never heard of, or visited. We are very pleased to make this information available for free to the entire genealogical community”

The rankings are the result of research conducted over the past three months by ProGenealogists’s Vice-President of Marketing, Kory L. Meyerink, who is also an adjunct professor of family history at Brigham Young University. “Only full-fledged genealogy websites could be considered for this ranking, due to the way the web analytics companies conduct their research,” Meyerink commented. “Individual pages on a government website, cannot be ranked independent of that government site’s own traffic. The same is the case for genealogical pages that are part of a larger, non-genealogical website.” Sites of only passing interest to genealogists, such as the meaning surnames or promoting coats-of-arms, were also excluded.

Bryce Barnett, Operations Manager for ProGenealogists, remarked, “The findings of this study are fascinating. Nine of the 50 sites are subscription sites, illustrating that
genealogists understand the value of paying for information. Indeed, half of the sites are primarily data-oriented sites. Another quarter are sites that provide links to genealogical data.”

ProGenealogists has posted the list at, notified the 50 websites, and provided an award icon they can display on their website. A detailed article, exploring the methodology and numbers behind this ground-breaking study is planned for a pending issue of Digital Genealogist, the popular Internet magazine.

ProGenealogists, a privately held Utah corporation, is one of the nation’s premier genealogical research firms, with offices in Salt Lake City, and Sandy, Utah. Founded in 1998, it brings together many of the nation’s best genealogists in an environment fostering high quality, scholarly genealogical research. ProGenealogists’s own website has been nationally recognized for the design, layout and quality of its content by USAToday, “Yahoo Internet Life” Magazine, Family Tree Magazine, and “The Internet Scout Report” sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Google April 1 Announcements

Today, April 1, Google made a number of announcements:

  1. Google Books announced they made some headway with one type of volume they've struggled with in the past - books employing scratch and sniff technology. Using special equipment and tricky JavaScript, they're now able to capture some of the smells during the scanning process and then embed them in your web browser when you preview these titles in Google Book Search.

    Intrigued? Here are a few aromatic examples:
    The Cheese Companion
    Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide
    The Science of Chocolate
    Gorillas in the Mist

  2. Google Australia announced the creation of gDay with MATE technology to search content on the internet before its created. According to Google, it spiders crawl publicly available web information and their index of historic, cached web content. Using a mashup of numerous factors such as recurrence plots, fuzzy measure analysis, online betting odds and the weather forecast from the iGoogle weather gadget, Google can now create a sophisticated model of what the internet will look like 24 hours from now.

Enjoy! All in fun. Knowing what will be on the internet tomorrow would save a lot of genealogy searching time, but I'm not sure what genealogists could do with the scratch and sniff technology. Google usually makes many April Rool's announcements. Can you find any more?