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Google Limitations on Genealogy Searches

Google is the most powerful search engine in the world and a favourite of anyone tracing their ancestors. But did you know that it has a hidden limitation for genealogy searches? Find out what it is and what you can do about it.

In our article How to Use Google Advanced Search for Genealogy we discussed the advantages of using the Google Advanced Search function. Here is another reason: Google quietly limits search results to a maximum of two listings per website per page. This hidden limit is a significant issue that every genealogist needs to know and understand.

For example, suppose you are looking for an ancestor and you suspect that most of the records are on the FamilySearch.org website. If you perform a standard Google search, a maximum of two listings from FamilySearch.org will appear on every Google search result page.

This subtle issue can trip up a genealogist looking for ancestral records because you can think you have done a complete search on Google when in fact you have not. The reason why is that ancestral records for an individual are not randomly scattered across the internet. They tend to cluster, often on just one or two websites.

The two listing limit per website per page means that you may have to look through many more Google search results pages than you might think to fully satisfy yourself that you have covered all the possibilities.

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Good online search techniques can help open many doors on the internet. Knowing that Google is a general search engine that is not specifically tailored to genealogy searches can help you get the most out of it when looking for your ancestors online. Image Source: M G Whittingham

To demonstrate the issue, try the following simple exercise:

• Do a Google search for “GenealogyInTime”. This is a targetted search for a specific item, in this case our magazine.

• Notice the first listings is for GenealogyInTime Magazine, which is what you would expect.

• Now notice the rest of the listings on the page are from other websites talking about GenealogyInTime Magazine. The listings are not actually from our website, as shown below.


This is a snippet of the Google search page for the term "GenealogyInTime". If you were looking for GenealogyInTime Magazine then this Google search would be fine. However, if you were looking for a person then it could be a problem. Records for an individual are not randomly scattered across the internet. They tend to be clustered on just one or two websites. Ideally, for a person search it would be best if Google pulled up just these websites first.


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