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Google can be one of the most useful tools in a genealogist’s toolbox. It’s likely that we’ve all turned to the massive search engine at some point during our research, typed in the name of a missing ancestor, and optimistically hit Enter, hoping for favorable search results. While this type of opportunistic search can be valuable, popular genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke, owner of Genealogy Gems, a multimedia family history company, says there’s a lot more to it than that.

We caught up with Cooke at RootsTech, and she explained how to use Google for genealogy like a pro. Take a look:

1) Create Google Alerts

If you don’t have time to do a customized search every day, set up Google Alerts. Google Alerts will take the keywords or phrases you’ve developed and run them through an internet search every hour of every day until you tell it to stop. When new information is posted online that matches your search, Google will email you links to the content.

To create a customized Google Alert, go to google.com/alerts. In the search bar near the top of the page, type the query or keyword you want to search. In the box below that, type the email address you wish to have results sent to, and click Create Alert.

Note: If you are already logged into Google, it will automatically set up an alert to your Gmail email address.

2) Use Google Books and Google Translate

If you’re an experienced genealogist, Google Books is a resource you should be using daily, said Cooke.

If you’ve got European ancestors, it’s a good idea to be researching in foreign language books. However, this can be tricky if you don’t speak these languages. Rather than trying to teach yourself German or Italian, Cooke says to use Google.

“Go to Google Translate and type in what it is you’re looking for,” she said. “Church records for [a certain] parish, or whatever. Let [Google Translate] convert it to the German language. Copy and paste it over into Google Books, and run your search.”

Use Google Books to search for:

The history of a location.

The history of a church.

Old magazines.

3) Refine Your Search

Cooke says the number one complaint she hears about Google search results is that it yields so much information and much of the search results aren’t relevant to the person’s family line.

“Anytime you run a search, put in what you’re looking for, and if you’re looking for the last name Lincoln but you’re not related to Abraham Lincoln, subtract out the word ‘Abraham’,” says Cooke. “Things related to what you don’t want, you [can eliminate by putting] a minus sign and the word.”

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