As the name suggests, search engines are designed to help you sort through all the web sites on the Internet to find the specific information you are seeking. They are the electronic equivalent of a card catalogue found in a library and help you narrow your search.
By going to the search command given you and following the instructions, you can enter a name, place or other keyword you are seeking and the search engine will display a vast number of genealogy sites containing these words or terms. Reading the brief descriptions provided, you can simply click on those that sound most promising and go directly to those sites.
There are a number of search engines available, including some designed specifically for genealogical purposes. Here are a couple of useful starting points for locating the right search engine for you:
Cyndi's List of search engines
April and Matt Helm's Genealogy SiteFinder! list of search engines
It's useful to know that not all search engines are created equal. Some are more comprehensive than most, while others are better at identifying truly relevant sites. Depending on your research objectives, you may want to use an engine that searches the Internet at large, or one that focuses on genealogical sites. And no one search engine can really hunt through the entire Internet, so it may be worthwhile to experiment with a variety of engines and bookmark the ones that work best for you. For a quick education, Visit Cyndi Howells's list of the Top Ten Things to Remember about search engines.
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Host Scott Wilkinson and Ancestors experts Alan Mann and Cyndi Howells talk about search engines.
Finally, learn how to use search engines to their best advantage. Take the time to read their instructions and options for advanced searches. Perhaps the most important skill to master is narrowing your searches. Rather than research on just a surname, consider including a first name or place so that you won't be inundated with thousands of potentially relevant sites. There's nothing more tedious that clicking your way through sites that are just peripherally related to your topic of interest. Help the search engine help you by learning how to feed it additional information to point to your Smith or Jones.