Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Searching Beauty of Odd Names


I had to get in touch with an acquaintance, and all I knew was his first name. I hoped I could find him on the internet.  Impossible, you say, to Google someone just knowing their first name?  Actually, I found him in about five minutes, and pulled up his full name, mailing address, email, place of work, and several phone numbers.

It helped immensely that his first name is Bezad.  Had he been a William or Michael or David, all would be lost.

But that's the beauty of rare names.  They are very, very easy to search on.  Whether you're looking for a modern day associate, or a long-ago ancestor in your family history, try zeroing in on the ones with the most unusual first or last names.  An oddly named great-great grandfather, grandmother, uncle, or 19th-cousin-thrice-removed (whatever that means) might turn up in a flash from a simple internet search, leading to other family members with more pedestrian monikers.

There's a Bezad in there somewhere!

Here are some good search tools for the odd ducklings in your family tree, if I may mix a metaphor or two.

Google, Google Books, and Google News Archives should all be searched independently.  Try searching the first and last name with and without quotes around it...the quotes tell Google to look for an exact phrase, rather than for pages that have both names anywhere on the page (if that doesn't make sense, don't worry about it...just try the searches).   If you're looking for an amazingly unusual name, then just a single name -- first or last -- may be enough.

Searching on that single name, Bezad, turns up about 6,000 hits in Google, 300 in Google Books, and almost 100 in Google News Archives.  Although there's certainly overlap between the lists, each search has its own potential for important revelations.  The searches in books and old newspapers, in particular, can uncover materials hundreds of years old.

If your oddly-named ancestor lived somewhere other than the US, you might want to try exploring newspaper archives from other areas of the world.  Head to the excellent list of International Newspaper Archives at XooxleAnswers, and start exploring.  Each newspaper listed there is different, in terms of how to search, what time periods are covered, and whether or not there is an English version of the search interface.  You'll just have to poke around, and see what turns up.  There are archives in places you might not imagine, like Iceland and Estonia, and records, in a few countries (take a look at France!) that go back to the 1600's!

You can search even more newspaper archives (both US and international) at NewspaperArchive and Ancestry. These are commercial sites, but still, there is so much excellent content at each, that they are worth exploring, even if you never actually subscribe.

Lastly, don't forget to look through current sources, like phone books and such.  Here's a great list of free people-find tools for just such a search.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated and will post shortly unless they are spam.