Many websites have their own search engines that allow you to ask their search engine to tell you what pages on that website have names, dates, places, or whatever keywords you want to look for on the pages of that site. But what do you do when there is no site specific search engine that is available? You can use your favorite search engine to perform what is called a site search.
If you are lucky, there may be a genealogical meta search engine or a person search tool that is set up to do that for you. But if there is not, then learning how to perform a site search is a must in cases where there are just too many links to click on and pages to read.
So, how do you do a site search? There are two ways. The first, and easiest way for some people, is to use the "Advanced Search" feature of most search engines. You need to open up a window with the "Advanced Search" version of your favorite search engine ready. If you have never seen that before, then look carefully in the menu or below the standard search box, and you should see the words "Advanced Search." Click on those words, and the "Advanced Search" page should open up for you.
Once you are on the "Advanced Search" page, you should see a box that allows you to search within a specific site or domain, if that is what you want. You should put the exact URL of the site you want to search in that box, and fill in the other boxes according to your preferences. Then hit "Search", and you are on your way!
The other way to perform a site search is to use the properly written site search option as a keyword in your search. You need to open up a window with the search box of your favorite search engine ready. Then you type the word "site", following immediately by a colon ":", followed by the exact URL of the site you want to search. You have to make sure that there are no spaces, or the search will fail. Here are examples of the way it should look:
Now, if you perform one of the above four searches as they appear above, you will get a listing of all of the webpages on that site which have been spidered. That might be fun and interesting, and is a helpful tool for webmasters, but it is not really what you want to do, to find the data you are looking for.
There are two basic ways you can narrow your search. First, you can put in keywords, which are the words that you want to find on the page. Second, you can search just part of the site by specifying the directory or subdirectory you want to search.
You need to tell the search engine what the words are that you want to see on the pages which it finds for you. If you are looking for a person, it will be a name. If you know when the event you are looking for took place, you can put the year or the exact date. If you know where the event occurred, then you can add the location.
So, for example, if you want to find out when John O'Connor left Ireland for the United States, and want to search all passenger lists on theshipslist website for his voyage, you can try the following search:
site:http://www.theshipslist.com John O'Connor Ireland "United States"
If you know the year that he travelled, you can narrow your search by adding the year:
site:http://www.theshipslist.com John O'Connor Ireland "United States" 1900
If you want to limit your search to a range of years, instead of a single year, there is a special way to tell Google's search engine to do this. I do not know if this works in other search engines, but you put the starting year, followed immediately by three dots or periods or full stops "...", followed immediately by the ending year for your search. So, if John travelled somewhere between 1895 and 1905, you would search as follows, making sure there are no spaces between the 1895 and the 1905:
site:http://www.theshipslist.com John O'Connor Ireland "United States" 1895...1905
If you write "1895-1905", then google will look for those two words written next to each other, because the hyphen "-" is used by google to signify that you want to find the two words right next to each other.
If you want to look for a range of years, you need to use the three dots "..." without spaces, as shown in the above example. Otherwise, a general search using a hyphen, as in the following example, might turn up John O'Connor's born in 1895 who were travelling or died in 1905.
passenger John O'Connor Ireland "United States" 1895-1905
For website domains such as http://files.usgwarchives.org, a basic site search will be very likely to yield too many results that are not what you want. If you are looking for John Miller's birth in Pennsylvania, you will turn up pages that are for births that occurred in other states as well.
site:http://files.usgwarchives.org John Miller birth Pennsylvania
But, for databases in the US GenWeb Archives site, http://files.usgwarchives.org, you can add a slash "/" followed by the abbreviation of the state you want to search to the URL, to limit your search to events in that particular state. The following will only show pages in the Pennsylvania databases that contain the words "birth" and "John Miller."
site:http://files.usgwarchives.org/pa/ John Miller birth
If you want to find the birth of Jane Smith, who was born somewhere between 1890 and 1900 in Arkansas, you would put the following into the search box:
site:http://files.usgwarchives.org/ar/ Jane Smith birth 1890...1900
So, to search for events in a particular state at US GenWeb, the format is as follows, where you must replace the XX with the abbreviation for the state of interest. For an official list of the abbreviations for each state in the United States, go to http://www.usps.com/ncsc/lookups/abbr_state.txt.
site:http://files.usgwarchives.org/XX/ PERSON NAME EVENT
You can use keywords such as "burial", "deaths", "birth", "baptism" and "marriage" to specify the event of interest.
If you want to perform a site search for a particular website on the Freepages server, you can use this technique as well. If you want to search this site at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~thecohens for death records, the sitesearch keywords would be:
site:http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~thecohens death records
You can skip to the next section about eliminating false hits by clicking here if you are not interested in more advanced technicalities of doing site searches on Rootsweb Freepages websites. The rest of this subsection is primarily of interest to people interested in searching specific freepages websites, and the freepages sites owned by specific freepages webmasters.
In general, the format to search a particular webmaster's site on Freepages, where COMMUNITY would be something like history, genealogy, family, etc., and USERID is the userid of the website. You can fill in your own optional KEYWORDS.
So, for example, we have pages in four "communities" on Freepages, and each requires independent searching if using the site search option. This is because the search engines recognize each of these four URLs as different websites. Again, each community for a specific webmaster's site requires a different site search, all of it's own. Examples are:
Sometimes you end up with a lot of "false hits," with pages that contain your keywords but that you really do not want to have to read. For example, you might turn up lots of pages about Obama's birth certificate when looking for births in Hawaii. Or pages advertizing birth data which has not yet appeared on a particular site, pages that say "Coming Soon."
If you are using the "Advanced Search" page of your search engine, just put the word or words you want to avoid in the "Does not contain" box. If you are composing your own search in the standard search page, then in Google search, add a hyphen "-" right before, immediately adjoining each phrase or word you want to avoid. Make sure there are no spaces between the hyphen and the keyword you want to avoid.
So, for example, if you want to search the web for Hawaii birth information, and avoid Obama pages, you would tell google search:
Hawaii birth information -obama
If you want to search the Genealogy Trails site to see what the birth record pages are for the state of Kansas, but do not want pages that say, "Coming Soon," you could use the following keywords. Note we are asking google to look in the "kan" directory, so it only will retrieve births in the Kansas portion of the website.
site:http://www.genealogytrails.com/kan/ births -"coming soon"
Sometimes Google's search engine might ignore exactly what you have entered. In those cases, you might need to use a plus sign "+" to tell it you really mean what you wrote and do not want it to split up the words, that you do not want similar results rather than exact.
site:http://www.genealogytrails.com/kan/ births -+"coming soon"
We use various search engines' site search features to evaluate websites for our free birth records resource pages, and to make searching some of those sites easier for our visitors. So, if you want to see site search in action, you may want to peruse our free birth record information page for the United States for many more examples of complex site searches. Look especially at our entries for Genealogy Trails and for TheOldenTimes in various states (see tip below for help finding these entries).
Remember that, if you find yourself on a long webpage, with lots of links or information, it is possible to quickly and easily find a specific word or phrase on the page with the help of your browser. If you do not know how to do this, then click here to learn.
You can learn a lot more about easily performing more powerful and specialized Google searches by reading the following pages.
If you find any errors or broken links on this page, or have suggestions for improving this page, then please do email us.
Page Updated February 25, 2010
NOTE: The links below will take you off of our personal family site, to various articles at the Learning Center at http://www.ancestry.com