The Search Tricks You Need to Find Your Ancestors With Bing

Published by Genealogy-Research on

By Patricia Hartley

As search engines go, Google is the undisputed king. Across the globe Google garners more than 73 percent of searches, which is probably why the name has become a verb that’s synonymous with online searching. While there’s much to be said about the benefits of turning to Google for genealogical research family historians can also get great results from using other search engines, like Bing.

Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, was launched in 2009 and is currently the third most popular search engine worldwide (Baidu, an engine that searches using Chinese language terms, ranks second).

Although Google and Bing index and deliver sites in a similar manner to users, Bing’s goal is to offer results in a real-world context rather than just showing sites based on the presence of specific text. Bing and Google search results also differ slightly in layout, and Bing’s video and image pages offer large, organized thumbnails along with descriptions and source information.

These differences can mean new opportunities to discover records about your ancestors, so taking the time to explore this search engine could yield big rewards.

When you’re using Bing for genealogy research, it’s a good idea to keep these basic search guidelines in mind:

  • A string of search words with no symbols will be assumed to have an AND between each term
  • Operators like AND, OR, or NOT must be capitalized so Bing will recognize them as directions for search
  • Punctuation marks (periods, question marks, exclamation points, etc.) are ignored in a search
  • Only the first 10 terms you type into the search bar are actually used in the search

Got it? Great! Now let’s dig in to see how to apply Bing’s search tricks to find our family members!

Use quotation marks for an exact search

Sure, enclosing a multi-word search term with quotation marks has become the universal practice for indicating an exact search, but have you explored all the ways to use this function in genealogy?

You probably know that enclosing a name like “Franklin Peck” is only going to display results where the word Franklin is followed by the word Peck with no words or letters between the two terms. That means that if your ancestor is listed in a record as Franklin C. Peck, that record will be excluded from your search results.

It won’t hurt to try this search with all variations of a name in quotation marks just to cover all of your bases, like this:

  • “Franklin C. Peck”
  • “Franklin Carmac Peck”
  • “Frank Peck”

Exact search can be a valuable tool for any multi-word phrase – not just names. For example, if you’re searching for a particular newspaper, cemetery, place of worship, etc. and only want to see results that contain the entire phrase, add quotations to your search like this:

  • “New Providence Baptist”
  • “Amarillo Globe-Times”
  • “Gilbert Family Cemetery”

Narrow results with the plus sign, parentheses, and AND

Bing Search Operators

If you’re searching for a common name like Smith or Jones, or if your initial search presents a lot of irrelevant sites, you can further narrow your results using the plus (+) sign and/or parentheses.

In Bing, adding a plus sign before a word will display only results that contain that specific word. Similarly, enclosing a group of words in parentheses will show only results where that group of words is included – but not necessarily in order. The words must appear somewhere on the page. 

In other words, if you include the term +marriage, only web pages containing the word marriage will be returned. You might use this function in conjunction with your exact search in quotation marks, adding known facts like a year of birth, city or state, or even the type of record you’re looking for, preceded by the plus sign.  

So, for example, if you type in “Frank Peck” +obituary, or “Frank Peck” (death notice), only results for Frank Peck that also include the word obituary or the words death notice on the same web page will be included in your search results.

Here are a few examples of how your search might look:

  • “Franklin Peck” +1941
  • “Frank Peck” (Poteau Oklahoma)
  • “Frank C Peck” +1864 +Alabama

Adding multiple restrictions will significantly reduce your results, perhaps to the point that your query returns no results at all, but don’t let that discourage you. Try again with fewer restrictive terms, or add a term with no operators (plus sign, quotation marks, parentheses, etc.)

Another way to accomplish this same goal is to use the word AND (in all caps). However, you’ll still need to use operators like quotation marks or parentheses to enclose multi-word terms. You might type something like this:

  • “Frank Peck” AND Oklahoma AND census
  • “Franklin Peck” AND (Poteau Oklahoma) AND death

Try different combinations to see what works best for your search. Each attempt will likely turn up new possibilities.

Exclude irrelevant terms with the minus sign

Bing Minus Sign If you have a George Washington Williams or Benjamin Franklin Johnson in your family tree, or your great-grandmother was actually named Clara Barton or Elizabeth Taylor, typing their first and middle names into a search engine will definitely present you with page after page of unrelated results about presidents, inventors, nurses, and actresses.

Including the operators we’ve just learned about will help to narrow your search, but sometimes you’ll actually get more relevant results by excluding terms that are truly irrelevant.

Let’s say that your ancestor is named Michael Young. Type the term Michael Young into the search bar and you’ll discover that there are a lot of famous and semi-famous Michael Youngs that will show up way before your ancestor. There are at least two professional basketball players named Michael Young, an NFL football player Michael Young, an MLB baseball player Michael Young, a doctor Michael Young, a CEO Michael Young…well, you get the picture.

To exclude these guys from your search, you can precede certain terms with the minus sign, like this:

“Michael Young” -NBA -basketball -athlete -doctor -MLB -baseball -NFL -football

If you continue to get results for the more famous Michaels, you might try removing some of the more closely related exclusion terms (NBA and MLB, for example) so you have room to add new terms (-CEO, -London, etc.). Just remember that Bing only recognizes the first ten terms in a search.

Putting it all together

Now that you know all of the tricks to finding your ancestors on Bing, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice.

As genealogists we definitely understand the value of exploring and exhausting every available source to find answers, so play around with your plus and minus signs, quotation marks, and parentheses to find more and more results. And because it’s very possible that one search engine may have picked up some content that another search engine missed, using both Bing and Google should help you to uncover previously undiscovered sources.

Bing has other operators that could be useful to you. Read all about them here.

For help making the most of your Google searches read these articles:

For nearly 30 years Patricia Hartley has researched and written about the ancestry and/or descendancy of her personal family lines, those of her extended family and friends, and of historical figures in her community. After earning a B.S. in Professional Writing and English and an M.A. in English from the University of North Alabama in Florence, Alabama, she completed an M.A. in Public Relations/Mass Communications from Kent State University. She’s a member of the Alabama Genealogical Society, Association of Professional Genealogists, National Genealogical Society, International Society of Family History Writers, Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society, Natchez Trace Genealogical Society and the International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review. 


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