How to Search for an Ancestor Whose Last Name Is a Common Word

We often get this question: What do I do when the surname I’m searching for generates thousands of hits because it is a common word (like Brown, Green or Coffee)?

Yes, searching for information on ancestors with ambiguous surnames can be a problem.

GenealogyBank often recommends searching using only the surname as the best way to maximize your search result hits and find the best target articles about your ancestor.

But a surname such as “Coffee” certainly can generate a lot of extra newspaper articles.

GenealogyBank search results page for search term "Coffee"

GenealogyBank search results page for search term “Coffee”

Scanning this list of search results we can quickly see articles about coffee roasters, flavor and other irrelevant articles—clearly not what the genealogist is looking for.

How do you find the genealogy records you are looking for?

GenealogyBank’s search results page has search tools to help you eliminate some of those extra newspaper articles and increase the likelihood of finding articles about your Coffee ancestor.

GenealogyBank search results page showing "article types"

GenealogyBank search results page showing “article types”

Look closely at the left column on the search results page. That is a list of “article types.”

GenealogyBank classifies the articles in our collection of over 6,100 newspapers into types: Historical Obituaries, Marriage Records, etc.

These article types can really help narrow the results of your genealogy search for your Coffee ancestor.

For example, try clicking on “Historical Obituaries.”

GenealogyBank "article type: historical obituaries" results for search term "Coffee"

GenealogyBank “article type: historical obituaries” results for search term “Coffee”

Now we’re not seeing any articles about coffee roasters or flavors of coffee—most of these obituary search results are about deceased people named Coffee.

If we click on “Marriage Records” we see similar results.

GenealogyBank "article type: marriage records" results for search term "Coffee"

GenealogyBank “article type: marriage records” results for search term “Coffee”

We can immediately see that these articles are mostly marriage and wedding announcements for people with the surname “Coffee.”

This genealogy search approach will save family history researchers a lot of time by limiting the website’s search results to the ones you want to use to document your family. The results will still include obituaries or marriage records that contain the word “coffee” in the text of the article. For example, perhaps the person was not named Coffee, but instead was employed by a coffee company or lived in Coffee City, Texas. The word “coffee” might appear in these articles for all types of reasons, but at least this genealogy search tip will help you get more relevant articles about Coffee the person, not the object.

Try your next ancestor search at GenealogyBank using the “article types” to better focus your search results.

 

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Written by Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp

Thomas Jay Kemp is the Director of Genealogy Products at GenealogyBank. Tom Kemp is an internationally known librarian and archivist – he is the author of over 35 genealogy books and hundreds of articles about genealogy and family history.

He previously served as the Chair of the National Council of Library & Information Associations (Washington, DC) and as Library Director of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

An active genealogist, he has been working on his own family history for 47 years. With the rapidly growing online archives at GenealogyBank – it is a great day for genealogy!

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