Have you hit a “brick wall” with your genealogy research? There’s that one ancestor who has proven to be very elusive. You’ve tried everything you can think of but are having no luck. It’s possible that a Boolean search could help you find your ancestor.
What’s a Boolean search? The answer to that question goes back to George Boole. He is best known for writing a book called “The Laws of Thought” (that was published in 1854). It explained how humans make decisions. The book described how people reduce complex logical relationships to simpler ones. This was called boolean reduction.
To make a long story short, a Boolean search is one that uses concepts that George Boole wrote about. The main difference is that it applies his concepts to search engines. People who do a Boolean search are telling the search engine what to look for and what not to look for. It is a way of narrowing down the results that a search engine gives you.
When you do a Boolean search, you start with a word, or series of words, that you want to search for. So far, this is the same as what you do for a “regular” search. In a Boolean search, you will also want to add one (or more) of the following words: and, or, not. The Colorado State Library has a great tutorial that can give you visual examples of how each of those words changes your search.
Doing a Boolean search is much easier than it may sound, and it is more effective than a typical search. You can use Google to do a Boolean search for your ancestor. The reason why many genealogists use a Boolean search is because the results it gives are already narrowed down for them. It is a way to get rid of information that is erroneous or irrelevant.
* And – Gives you information that matches both of the things you are searching for
* Or – Gives you information that matches at least one of the things you are searching for (but that doesn’t match both things)
* Not – Gives you only the information that matches one thing (and removes information that matches something you aren’t interested in).
The Family History Daily blog explains it this way: Example: Mary Sweft OR Swaft born 1847 NOT Swift.
This shows how to use more than one of the three words used in Boolean searches at the same time. In addition to the Boolean search, Google has a list of symbols that can help you to refine your search.
Image by Chris on Flickr.
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