Saturday, 8 January 2011

Googling for Grandma

Googling for Grandma was the title of a lecture by the incomparable Cyndi Howells which I attended on the 2007 Wholly Genes Genealogy Conference and Cruise. Cyndi's excellent lecture equipped me with many new and exciting Google tools for extending my family research into the nooks and crannies of the internet.

Googling for Grandma

In time, I became proficient enough to give my own talk on the subject to our local U3A Family History Group. I hope Cyndi will forgive me for stealing her catchy title. At the end of my talk I invited members of the audience to give me family history subjects, about which they would like to find more information, for me to Google then and there.

The first request was from a lady who had recently discovered that her ancestor, William Cooksley, ran a factory in Bristol. Would there be anything about him or his factory online? A Google search on <+Cooksley +factory +Bristol> immediately threw up a hit which stunned us all. William Cooksley's modest Bristol nail making business was mentioned in the pages of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital":

Kapital 2

In my experience, this kind of spectacular result is far from unique. I have already blogged about my black sheep ancestor Rev Frederick Davis and his unlicensed lunatic asylum. I first became aware of this story because of Google Books. A search on <"Manor House" +Northfleet +Davis> led me to an article from the German psychiatry magazine Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Psychiatrie und psychisch-gerichtliche Medizin, Volume 35, 1879. (Google Translate tells me that this is the General journal of psychiatry and psycho-forensic medicine.)

German magazine

Only a "snippet view" of the article was shown but it was enough to inform me that Frederick had appeared before the magistrates at Rochester, Kent on Friday 29 June to face a charge by the Lunacy Commissioners under the Lunacy Act. From this, I was able to do further research.

Last Wednesday marked a further stage in my Google education, as I attended a webinar by the equally awesome Thomas MacEntee on Google for Genealogists. It is Thomas' fault that I have not blogged since then - I have been too busy trying out all the new Google toys he gave me to play with. But chatting with Cyndi and Thomas after the webinar gave me the idea for a series of blog posts about how Google has helped my genealogy research, of which this is the first. I hope that, as the series goes on, you will learn some new tips and tricks and make some new research discoveries of your own. Please let me know if you do.


  1. Great idea for a series - I am looking forward to it!

  2. Thanks, Thomas. I shall be including some of the things I've discovered since Wednesday, thanks to your talk.

  3. Caroline - Thank you for this post, and I'm looking forward to the series. I wasn't able to attend last week's webinar, so this is a nice way to help me to catch up and learn something new.

  4. Thank you, Cynthia. You can view a recording of the webinar at It will be available until February 5. You can also download Thomas' handouts from