Friday, May 15, 2009

Google's New Search Options

This week Google announced a new set of features called Search Options - a collection of tools that let you slice and dice your Google search results to generate different views to find what you need faster and easier.

Starting this week, a "Show Options" link now appears on the blue bar above the Google search results. See arrow above. Click on Show Options to see the new Google features.

Search Options helps the user filter search results by different criteria without opening a new page. Generally, Google gives what it considers the most relevant results first, but Search Options allows you to change the filter to meet your own needs.

Google Search Options now allows you to organize your search results by time so that the newest results will appear first. I think the Search Options will be especially useful for genealogy queries that are performed frequently. Genealogists are constantly looking for new info posted on the web to further research. By putting the newest sites first in the list of search results you are less likely to miss them.

The Search Options panel gives you the ability to view your results in new ways. One view gives you more information about each result, including images as well as text, while others let you explore and iterate your search by time.

You could search for your name, then change the results order to Recent Results, then further filter your search to Recent Results in Forums only with just a few clicks.

You can check more than one option under the different text results.

Take a look at the Wonder Wheel option. Perhaps Google is trying to make the process of refining queries more visual by adding a Wonder Wheel of related search suggestions. I'm not sure how useful it is but if you think of any ideas for its use, leave a note in the comments here.

The new Google Search Options are going to be very helpful so that we don't miss any new results for our genealogy queries. Try some of your Google queries that you frequently search for and take a look at the different results you find as you put the newest sites first.

Google says to keep watching as they plan to add additional features to the Search Options.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Finding the Data from Geocities Sites

Geocities, home of many genealogy websites, is closing. Unfortunately, some webmasters may not move their sites before it does.

One reason is that webmasters may not be aware that Geocities is closing. It doesn't appear that Geocities is notifying their webmasters by email. Instead, the only notice Geocities is giving is a message about the closing when a webmaster logs into the Geocities file manager. Some webmasters haven't logged into the file manager for years!

Unless a Geocities webmaster reads about the closing on the news or in a blog, they might not know it is happening. If you know someone with a Geocities site, write to them to let them know Geocities is closing. Otherwise, they may find out about the closing too late to save their site.

There are many, many genealogy related sites on Geocities. When I searched Google for: ~genealogy
I got 1,090,000 genealogy related results on Geocities. That's a lot of genealogy on Geocities.

If you have not yet explored geocites sites, there is no time like the present to get started.

Use the command in the Google searchbox: ~genealogy

This will find genealogy related sites on Geocities. (See Google and the tilde for info about using the tilde in a Google search)

Add a surname and/or a town, county or state to the command to further narrow your search. ~genealogy smith pennsylvania

Bookmark all the Geocities sites that are important to your genealogy research. Use the exact name of the site when you create the bookmark. Extract the relevant information and use the geocities URL as a citation.

Why bookmark? Once Geocities closes, there are four ways to possibly retrieve a Geocities site for further research.

  • Search for the name of the site in quotes. Most webmasters will not change the name of their site when they move the site. Remember when you bookmark a Geocities site to use the exact name of the site as listed on the webpage.

  • Cache - use the command in the Google search box. The cache wont be there for long after Geocities closes, but it is worth a try.

  • Internet Archive - Search for the URL or exact name of the site. You will find archived webpages from various dates, but the Internet Archive doesn't always save all the interior pages of a site.

  • Search for the Geocities site URL in Google in case the webmaster has listed the former Geocities URL on his new site.

Remember to spread the word about the Geocities closing to Geocities webmasters so that genealogy info on Geocities can be preserved.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

My Genealogy Site is on Geocities. Now what do I do? Part III

Geocities is soon closing its doors forever. If you have a genealogy site on Geocities, you may want to read

Those who want to save copies of their Geocities sites before it closes have a couple of choices:

  • Copy each page manually using the Geocities File Manager
  • Use a program that automatically copies the whole website to your hard drive.

Copying each page of a site individually might be OK for a small site, but for a larger site, it would be very tedious and extremely time consuming.

I decided to try the free to copy a Geocities website. Httrack is meant to be used to copy sites to browse them off-line, but is also ideal for copying a site for which there is no FTP such as Geocities sites.

I downloaded the Windows version of httrack and tried it to copy a couple of my Geocities websites.

The first site I copied was small - about 25 pages. Hhtrack copied my site to my hard drive in only a few minutes. Note: Httrack copies the linked pages only, so that if you have some pages or graphics in the Geocities file manager that are not linked to other pages, they will have to be copied manually.

Then I tried a larger site that had over 700 pages. Httrack started copying this large Geocities site, but when it finished, I noticed I had many errors in the error log and saw that the whole site wasn't copied correctly.

Part way through the copying of the site, the httrack error log started to show the error message "Service Temporarily Unavailable" for each page. I realized that once Httrack reaches the Geocities' bandwidth restriction, it copies the error page that Geocities displays instead of the page on your website. Thinking that perhaps Httrack's "resume download" feature would resume the download from when I started getting error messages, I found I was wrong. Since it copied the whole site as it was displayed (albeit with many Geocities error pages noting that the bandwidth restriction had been reached), Httrack started to copy at the beginning instead of resuming and I quickly ran into the bandwidth restriction again.

Httrack does allow copying one directory at a time. I was able to copy directory by directory spaced out over time so as not to invoke the Geocities limit. Make sure each copy is at least an hour apart.

If all of your files are in one directory, you can move them into separate directories for the purpose of being automatically copied. Just click on the check box for each page you want to move into a directory, then select move to a directory.

Httrack does a good job of copying the linked pages of a website to your computer. However, you must manually copy anything from the file manager that is not linked.

And if you have a large website, Geocities bandwidth restriction will keep you from automatically copying the whole thing. Check the error log for problems and check the pages you copied onto your hard drive to make sure you have your website pages and NOT the Geocities error page. You don't want to find out too late that you haven't successfully copied your whole site and have a couple hundred pages of Geocities error pages instead of your site.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

My Genealogy Site is on Geocities. Now what do I do? Part II

Geocities will be closing down later this year (2009). If you have a genealogy site on Geocities, you can take steps now so that when Geocities does close down, your site will already be moved and links around the Internet will already be pointing to your new site.

I've outlined the steps to move your Geocities site to a new web host in
My Genealogy Site is on Geocities. Now What Do I Do? Part I

Also see:

Once your site is moved, there is still more to do if you want your site to be found by other genealogists.

If you have a Geocities site, it has probably been on the Internet for awhile and has built up a fair amount of backlinks from other websites. Once Geocities shuts down, these links will become broken and will no longer point to your site.

You don't want to lose links to your genealogy site. The more sites that link to you, the better chance a distant cousin has of finding your site.

Other webmasters who link to Geocities sites will want keep their links current and will appreciate an email with the new URL to your site. If they have to hunt for your new URL, there is less chance that your link will be updated. And once Geocities is gone, other webmasters may just delete all their Geocities' links en masse.

But how do you find out who links to your site? Use the link: command in the search engine box:

  • Type link: into the Google searchbox. (This URL is made up. Please substitute your own URL)
  • Type link: tree/ into the Yahoo searchbox.
Note that there is no space after the colon and before the URL. Surprisingly, Yahoo will generally list a lot more backlinks to a site than Google.

Once you have moved your site and found out who links to your Geocities site, you can write to these webmasters. It is definitely worth the effort to request the links to your site be updated.

Go to each listed website and look for a link that says Contact me or Email the Webmaster or something similar. Your letter to the webmaster of the site that links to yours should include:

  • the URL of the page where your link appears (this is the linking site URL, not your URL)
  • Your site name
  • your old Geocities URL
  • your new URL

Giving the URL of the page your link is on keeps the webmaster from searching for your link.

Here is an example of what to write:

Dear Webmaster,

On your website on page http:www.biggenealogydirectory/links.html, could you
please update the site called Mahady One Name Study.

Old URL:

New URL:

Thanks so much

Some websites have automated the process to update a link. Look for a link that says Update your Link or a variation of that, then follow the instructions for the update link process.

Be sure to cut and paste your URLs to lessen the chance of typing errors when sending your Update Link emails.

As I write this, I realize it might be a smart idea for webmasters to list their former Geocities URL on their new site so that if someone searches for the old Geocities URL when it no longer exists, the new site will appear in the search results. I am going to add this as a footnote to my own sites so that if someone only has the old geocities URL, they can still find the new site by searching for the old URL.

Mahady One Name Study was formerly located at