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How to create a "Google Alert" for your ancestor

We spend a lot of time looking for our ancestors. Wouldn't it be nice if they just showed up in our email's inbox? With the free tool, Google Alerts, this is possible.

With hundreds of millions of web sites on the Internet, we typically use search engines, such as Google, Bing, Excite, etc. to find what we are looking for, such as our ancestors. Some of us probably even search for our own names to see what others are saying about us.

I don't know how many thousands or millions of new web sites are created each month, but if we really want to find on the Internet what we are looking for, then we have to continually search and re-search - and then do this every month to see if any of the new web sites contain what we are looking for.

By creating a Google Alert, whenever Google finds your word or phrase that you are interested in, Google will automatically send you an email. For example, I am searching for an ancestor, James Marion McCall. If, today, I don't find anything relevant, I can create a Google Alert for his name, and then work on other things, such as get ready for our 7th annual Legacy Genealogy Cruise to Australia and New Zealand. :) Then, if someone publishes new information to a website that Google finds, I'll get an email with a direct link to the new page.

In a sense, our ancestors are hunting for us for a change.

Here's how to do it.

1) Go to, enter your search terms, your email address, and click "Create Alert".


2) Google then sends you a verification email. You will not receive Google Alerts on your topic until you click the link in the verification email to confirm your request.

3) Sit back and relax. Do something with your living relatives. Go on vacation. Read a book. Spend some money in the Legacy online store.

While you are enjoying life, Google is working for you. When it finds your phrase, you will receive an email with a link to the website, and hopefully information about your ancestor.

For more information or to create an alert, visit


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What an interesting concept! I can see some potential problems, however. If all the researchers you know and tell about this tool use it for 50 or 100 of their "problem" families or lines, mighten we clog the system? I haven't looked, but I assume there is a way to remove your alerts as well. Right? ---- Oh I just checked. Yes, creating and managing and removing is all very easy. I just di two of my "brick walls." And I can have a limit of 1000 alerts. Wow.

I just tried the Google Alert on two of my ancestors. I have a couple of suggestion. Use quotes around your ancestors name like "Mary Worth" or you will get alerts for all the Marys and all the worths which come up on blogs, etc. Also add a locality to your alert like "Mary Worth" + Massachusetts to further limit your responses. This is indeed a cool tool!

This is a great tip. Thanks.

According to the Google Alerts FAQ

* A 'News' alert is an email aggregate of the latest news articles that contain the search terms of your choice and appear in the top ten results of your Google News search.
* A 'Web' alert is an email aggregate of the latest web pages that contain the search terms of your choice and appear in the top twenty results of your Google Web search.
* A 'Blogs' alert is an email aggregate of the latest blog posts that contain the search terms of your choice and appear in the top ten results of your Google Blog search.
* A 'Comprehensive' alert is an aggregate of the latest results from multiple sources (News, Web and Blogs) into a single email to provide maximum coverage on the topic of your choice.
* A 'Video' alert is an email aggregate of the latest videos that contain the search terms of your choice and appear in the top ten results of your Google Video search.
* A 'Groups' alert is an email aggregate of new posts that contain the search terms of your choice and appear in the top fifty results of your Google Groups search.

Notice that all of these only include the TOP X results. If the result you are searching for doesn't appear in those results, Google Alerts will FAIL to alert you of it. So don't assume Google Alerts will find "everything". It simply won't.

I did this a week ago with the name of one of my brick wall ancestors putting her names in quotes.
Every day I get back nothing but lots and LOTS of facebook, twitter, sports results, etc, etc of people living today with the same name.
There doesn't seem to be a way to weed this other trivia out. It is too bad there isn't some way to indicate 'genealogy' results only.
It is a real disappointment to me.

I have been using this tool since it came out and have a few suggestions. First, set your frequency to weekly. I set it to daily and was overwhelmed. 1) remember to create alternate spellings if they occur: 2) create searches for variations such as "Mary Margaret Smith", "Mary Smith", "Mary M. Smith", "Mary M Jones", "Mary Margaret Jones", etc. [my condolences if your names is Smith or Jones] 3) create alerts for the towns your relatives came from, including changes of name, which happened to towns - Berlin, Ontario, now Kitchner, Ontario (since WWII)

In OpenOffice (openoffice dot org) or that other expensive word processor, create a document for each family or person. When you open your eMail Alert, paste the articles, etc. into this doc with the date, including those that you are unsure of being family. This way, you can then paste the item into each person's record, and leave the others to research later. Use Evernote for clipping documents that you find in research. Very quick and easy to do.

Do a websearch on: "Ancestor's Name" Genealogy

It will still only give you the top twenty results, but all the results will have the word 'genealogy' in them as well.

Maybe you want to do a websearch on: "Ancestor's name" location
(If you know where your ancestor lived.)

I've had some success by adding the year of birth to the ancestor's name. That weeds out some of the current same-names.

"Eugene Rosenlof" will only return that "Eugene Rosenlof". I have "Rosenlof, Eugene" to return that one. I just use the rosenlof -rulo search without quotes. I may miss a piece of information that would help. I can add exceptions as I go along. I have found obits, newspaper articles, interesting facts, with just the name. Sure it will pick up that name query. I added lillian larson washington utah, It will find all those articles together. I have one ancestor that has definetly a brick wall and I just put that last name. It will return "any" reference hopefully to that brick wall. Possibly at least a email.

Tim Rosenlof

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