Thursday, July 17, 2008

Searching City Directories at Footnote

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I was pleased to see that Fold3 (formerly has begun to add city directories to its collection. If you have ancestors who lived in a city, these directories can be a great genealogy resource since they were published annually.

City Directory Uses
City directories show the husband's name, address, & occupation. If the husband has died, the city directory will show the widow's name and address. It also will generally note her husband's name. How is this useful? If you follow a family in the city directories year by year, you can learn the year of death of the husband by noting the first year that the wife appears as a widow.

City directories can also be used to follow a family's migration and note the year the moved from a city. I've also been able to use city directories to pinpoint the location of a family so that I could find them in census.

Searching Footnote City Directories
When I first started searching the Footnote city directories, I found it a bit confusing. I searched for the surname Mahady, but the search results came up with Maguire. Close, but not the same name. But when I went to the city directory image, it turns out that Maguire was the name listed at the top of the city directory - the first name that showed on the page of names. Like a phone book today, a city directory has beginning names in the top corners for each page, and this is the name that Footnote gave as a result.

Once you get a result at Footnote, zoom in on the page images and pan down to the name you searched for. The Mahady family was on the city directory page that started with Maguire.

You can browse each page to eyeball any possible surname variations, and find a family that an exact name search might have missed.

So far, Footnote has multiple years of these cities:

  • Chicago
  • Boston
  • Philadelphia
  • Washington, D.C.
and for many cities in New England states.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Using Google to Find Common Surnames in a Genealogy Search

If you are searching for a surname that is also a common word such as Fox, Sales, Day, Park, or Green, you may have found that most of your searches bring up unwanted web pages that have nothing to do with genealogy.

Surnames that also can be first names such as James, Dennis or George have the same challenge.

Here are some tips to help find these difficult-to-find surnames using Google. These ideas work for all surnames, but are especially helpful for common word names:

  • Use Google's Personalized Search. As Google learns your preferences, it will know that you are searching for Fox the surname and not fox the animal.
  • Add ~genealogy to your query. Surprisingly, not every genealogy webpage has the word "genealogy" on the page, but using ~genealogy will find pages that use the words family history, family tree, or ancestry. A search would look like fox ~genealogy
  • Eliminate false results by telling Google NOT to give results when a particular word appears on a web page. For example, fox -animal will eliminate all web pages on which the word animal appears. You can do more than one subtraction in a search. If you have eliminated all the pages about the animal fox, but find you are now getting search results about Fox News, you can add another subtracter to your query fox -animal -news which will eliminate all web pages on which the word animal and news appear.
  • Add specifics to your query:
    • Add first name to query using quotes. Search for "John Fox"
    • Add a year range (generally birth and date death) to query. Search for "John Fox" 1800..1861
    • Add location to query. Search for "John Fox" 1800..1861 Connecticut
    • Add an additional name to query. If John Fox married Mary Wagner, search for "John Fox" "Mary Wagner" 1800..1861 Connecticut

  • Add likely keywords that will appear on a genealogy page such as family or born. The keywords family or born are words that will more than likely appear on a genealogy web page and will help limit your search results to genealogy web pages.
  • Another technique is "allintitle:" operator. This will search for the word in the title of the web page. This may capture some additional genealogy web pages about the surname usually buried deep in the search results. allintitle: fox genealogy
  • Instead of using the Google search engine, try the Google Directory. Personal Web Pages found in the Google directory come from those submitted to Although the DMOZ directory is woefully out-of-date and seems to regularly purge worthy websites, you still might find a helpful surname website here.
  • Sometimes, a surname specific search engine is the only way to get results. Try the
    Surname Finder Search which searches databases by surname only.

Of course, all of these suggestions can be mixed and matched. More Google Search Tips