We all use Google routinely outside of our genealogical research, but I argue that we should be using it as a fundamental part of our research as well. You should be Googling all of your ancestors, and regularly. Here are a few Google Search tips that you might find useful:
If you didn’t already know, putting whatever you’re Googling in double quotation marks will make sure you get that exact phrase. (Single quotation marks won’t work.) For example, if I Google Joseph Bryan Geoghegan, I will get pages containing those individual words, but not necessarily as one complete name. If I Google “Joseph Bryan Geoghegan” I will only get those three words grouped together in that exact order.
In order to make the most use of this, however, I should also be searching him as “Geoghegan Joseph Bryan” “Joseph B. Geoghegan” “J. B. Geoghegan”, “Geoghegan J. B.”, etc. I should also be trying it without quotation marks as well, obviously. Googling an individual is much more time-consuming than you might think, but it can have fantastic results.
I recently discovered that you can also search on numeric ranges, using ellipses (...). So you could search Joseph Bryan Geoghegan 1812...1890 (no spaces before or after ellipses), to search for dates that fall within his lifetime. If a reference isn’t dated it won’t come up, and it does only mean within the page, content, so it’s not 100% accurate, but I’ve found it useful.
Use the minus symbol (-) to omit results that contain a certain word. Search Geoghegan –Ireland (Space after Geoghegan, no space between – and Ireland) to omit all results for Geoghegan containing the word Ireland.
Use the tilde symbol (~) (located on shift+# on my keyboard) to denote ‘similar to’ in a search. So, ~genealogy (no space) searches on family history, family tree, vital records, census, etc. You can also use it before a URL in the Google search box to identify similar web pages: a search for ~www.ancestry.co.uk brings up find my past, 1911 census and various other useful genealogy webpages.
Finally, Google will generate definitions using define: followed by search term. E.g. define:genealogy (no space). I have found this search useful for unusual occupations, for example.
Google has other handy functions too. Google Map is indispensable for finding out where exactly your ancestry locations are. Use the ‘get directions’ function to get a rough idea how far away places are from one another. If you’ve got an exact address, try streetview. It’s not quite as good as being there, but you can get a feel for the area at least!
Google Images can also give you useful stuff. Though you’re fairly unlikely to find a photo of an ancestor, you can easily find old photographs of locations, or photographs from the same era to see styles of clothing, for example – helpful for comparisons if you’re trying to work out the date of an old photo.
I also use Google Calendar to store key dates, which I have then used with a Blogger application to generate the Calendar that appears on this page.
Finally, if you need to share genealogy documents with others online, Google Documents is a pretty good way to do so, though I have had issues with the upload tool. You can the link to this by email or within a blog or other webpage.