Letting Your Computer Do the Walking Using Search Engines

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Imagine spending several hours clicking from link to link and not finding anything that relates to your research. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to just type in your ancestor's name and see if there are any sites that contain that name? That's exactly what search engines allow you to do.

Search engines are programs that examine huge indexes of information generated by robots. Robots are programs that travel throughout the Internet and collect information on the sites and resources that they run across. You can access the information contained in search engines through an interface, usually through a form on a Web page.

The real strength of search engines is that they allow you to search the full text of Web pages instead of just the title or a brief abstract of the site. For example, say that we're looking for information on one of Matthew's ancestors whom we found by using a lineage-linked database: George Helm, who lived around the turn of the nineteenth century in Frederick County, Virginia. We could start by consulting a comprehensive genealogical index site (for more on comprehensive genealogical indexes, see "Browsing Comprehensive Genealogical Indexes," later in this chapter). There we could look for a Web site with George Helm in the title, or find an abstract of the site. Even if the comprehensive index contains tens of thousands of links, the chances of a Web site having George Helm in its title or its abstract is relatively small.

Different kinds of search engines are available to aid your search. These include genealogically focused search engines, general Internet search engines, and general Internet meta-search engines. We'll explore a couple in the next section.

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