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Insight #4 Search is a Game of Probabilities

As the previous example demonstrated, searching for a rare name line Ezra Pound is fundamentally much easier than searching for a common name like John Smith. This leads us to a useful insight when searching for your ancestors. Focus on the ancestors that have the least common name.

By least common, we don’t necessarily mean choosing your ancestor that has the least common family name. We mean the ancestor who has a combination of first, middle and last names that is the least common. Find that ancestor and then use the information you glean from that search result to look for other ancestors in the same family.

Here is a useful genealogy tip if you are searching for a famous ancestor or any ancestors that happens to have a lot of historic references. Perhaps you had an ancestor who was mayor of the local town and was constantly mentioned in the local newspaper. If you want to get beyond casual references to your ancestor, consider searching by their full name, including any middle name(s).

You can see how this works in the example above with Ezra Pound. To understand why searching by a full name is a good idea for a famous ancestor, consider how a newspaper displays names.

A newspaper article will normally mention just a person’s first and last name. If it mentions a person’s full name it is usually in association with a more formal event, such as a wedding, birth, etc.. These are the kind of records genealogists seek.

Insight #5 – The Shortcoming of Quotes

One commonly held notion of genealogy searches that is often repeated is to enter your ancestor’s names in quotes. There have been many articles and several books on the topic that suggest the best way to find your ancestors is to enter their names in the form shown below.

search for John Smith

Putting your ancestor's name in quotes is the traditional way to search online.

Tip: Don't use the "+" sign in front of a word to replace quotes around a word. Google no longer supports this function.

The reason this approach is generally suggested is the logical thinking that most ancestral records are of the form <first name last name> or <last name, first name>. That may be true in a physical archive but on the internet, that is not really true.

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