18 March 2011

GENEALOGY AND SEARCH ENGINES

     I have a fascination with search engines that goes back before Al Gore invented the Internet. (Warning: I am going to "date" myself here with tales of life "back in the old days").  I was in the first generation of lawyers taught to use Lexis as a research tool in the late 1970's. Lexis was the first major step in computer-based legal research. It used Boolean searches to seek out phrases and "buzz" words in legal opinions. Few law firms could afford a Lexis computer station, plus the cost of training its attorneys in Lexis use, but I was lucky to work at one that did, so I received training while I was still in law school.
     This early training was invaluable to me. While I no longer understand the algorithms that drive today's search engines, I can still put together a killer search on most engines. So when I began receiving multiple emails from fellow researchers this past week about the new genealogical search engine Mocavo, I had to try it out right away.
     I think Mocavo has its place in every family history researcher's tool shed, but it does not totally replace general Internet search engines for genealogical use. Mocavo scours genealogy-based databases to get its results. Therefore, it automatically weeds out all those irrelevant results and zeroes in on returns from genealogy related sites only. It performs this job very well.
     One test I use on search engines is my own surname, "Large." Just try putting "Large" in ANY search engine and getting ANY results relevant to genealogy! But Mocavo passed the "Large test" admirably, returning hits about persons with the surname Large from a multitude of genealogical sites--even when I simply used "large." What a welcome help for someone like me who is researching a name that is a commonly used word! Running names such as "Richard Large" or "Thomas Large" in quotes gave better results. For a newcomer to genealogy, this service would be invaluable. Even experienced researchers can use Mocavo to double check or update their Internet searches.
     My only concern is the same one that I have about Ancestry.com: inexperienced researchers might think that they have searched all there is available to search on the Internet. If you are new to genealogy, please don't stop with your results from Mocavo or from Ancestry.com. I have been hearing from many researchers who give up after trying a few searches.
     There is still a place in genealogical research for a well-crafted all-Internet search. Especially in Irish research, only a tiny portion of available genealogical records are on the Internet, and a smaller portion, yet, on popular genealogical sites.
     One way that an Irish genealogical researcher can narrow down a Google search is to use Google Ireland. The top results will be from Irish web sites.
     Don't forget to search Google Books. I have made many Irish genealogical discoveries in 19th century books that are stored on Google Books. Many of these discoveries were made in books published in the UK in the 1800's.
     Clustering search engines are my favorites. A clustering search engine will place its results in categories. This is a convenient way to narrow down your search, especially if the categories include "family" or "genealogy." Unlike Mocavo, you can at least see other categories that might be relevant to your search terms. Sometimes those categories might give you ideas for further research, even if they are not related to genealogy. For example, if your ancestor was, unbeknown to you, an author, that information would pop up in the "author" or "publications" category. That information would be lost in the million hits of a  Google search or left out of a narrow genealogy-only Mocavo search. My favorite clustering engine is Yippy (it has gone through various names, such as Clusty).
     So, my advice is to add Mocavo to your favorites list. Do spend some time running your ancestral names through its engine to ensure that you have not missed major genealogical databases. But, don't forget to use a variety of search engines in your research.
LINKS
GOOGLE IRELAND: Google Ireland