Lake County Ohio GenWeb

Using the FreeFind Search Engine

About the search engine

The Lake County GenWeb site uses a search Engine provided by FreeFind. Free search engines use ads on the results page to provide the revenue to keep them going; since the results page is actually on their web site, this does not violate Rootsweb's policy on ads.

It is suggested that you not just use the search engine, but explore each of the areas. Learn about the county and find those misspelled lost relatives.

This search engine is powerful, but you have to know its conventions to be able to use its power. We will look at its various features here, using a search for John A. (Ambrose) Smith to demonstrate different ways of searching.

In this document, words in italics are possible results from the search. Search terms you type into the search engine will appear in a monospace (typewriter) font.

The basic search

First, note that punctuation is generally ignored. Also, the characters + - * ? ( ) [ ] " " { } have special meaning to the search engine (described below) and should not be otherwise used. It may be easier to ignore punctuation when typing search terms.

Words or phrases can be combined into one term by enclosing them in parentheses. Term, in the context of this document, refers to a word, phrase, or combination of words and phrases. So Smith, archive, and (Jones AND NOT Smith) are all terms.

By default, the search engine looks for all of the terms anywhere on a page. A search for John Smith, will find any pages with John and Smith on them, even if the words are separated by the rest of the page. Not usually what we're looking for. What's more, if no pages are found with both words, then any pages with either John or Smith on them will be listed. There is a note near the top of the page, just after the ads, that tells you when this is done. This simple search is best used for unusual surnames or to combine more complex searches, as shown later.

Modified searches

Searches may be modified in several ways. There are phrase searches, which only find pages where the terms are close together and in a specific order. There are also Boolean operators to combine words and phrases; similar to these are the plus sign and minus sign operators. And there are also wildcard searches, which are useful for those terms that can be spelled in various ways.

Phrase searches

Phrase searches come in three varieties, exact, near, and far. Note that the order of the words in the phrase is critical; a search for "John Smith" will not find Smith, John.

  1. Exact phrase searches find only the exact phrase typed in. They are produced by placing quotes around the phrase. A search for "John Smith" would find the phrase John Smith, but not John A. Smith.

  2. Near phrase searches require the words to be not more than a few words apart. They are produced by placing square brackets around the phrase. A search for [John Smith] will find John Smith and also John A. Smith and John Quincy Smith.

  3. Far phrase searches will find words which are several words apart. They are produced by placing curly braces around the phrase. A search for {John Smith} will find all exact and near phrases, but also things like John Rogers, who was a smith, and John, son of Mary (Smith) Williams.

The near phrase search is generally best for searching surnames. If you also wish to search for Smith, John, however, you need to understand a bit about Boolean operators.

Boolean operators

Boolean operators used by FreeFind are AND, OR, and NOT. The capitalization is required. AND means that the words/phrases it connects must both be present. OR means that at least one of the words/phrases it connects must be present. NOT means that the term following it must not be on the page. Pretty much like common English usage. Note that OR will be considered a Boolean operator; if you want the state abbreviation for Oregon, you'll need to put it in quotes: "OR".

Boolean operators are handy if you need to search for multiple possibilities. Some web pages will have names in the usual firstname, lastname order; this is typical of narrative documents, such as histories. Indexes, however, usually are in lastname, firstname order. Since phrase searches look for names only in the order given, you need two searches joined by a Boolean OR, as in

    [John Smith] OR [Smith John].

Plus sign and minus sign operators

By putting a plus sign (+) immediately in front of a term (word or phrase), you signify that the term must be present. A minus sign (-) means that the term cannot be present. So a search for +Smith -Jones will ignore pages with Jones on them, even if Smith is present.

The ? and * Wildcards

The question mark (?) is used to represent a single character, which must be present. If you had ancestors who variously spelled their surname Loudon or Louden, you could search for Loud?n. Looking for Ayres or Ayers could be done with two question marks: Ay??s.

The asterisk (*) tells FreeFind that any number of characters (including no character) would be acceptable at this point. Suppose that John Smith also went by Johnny. Also suppose that his surname was sometimes spelled Smythe. Then you could search for him using:

[John* Sm?th*] OR [Sm?th* John*]


In Summary

The various types of searches may be summarized as:

TypeExampleWhat it does
Basicterm1 term2 ...Looks for all terms, regardless of order; if that fails, looks for any term
Exact phrase"term1 term2"Looks for the terms in order, with no intervening characters
Near phrase[term1 term2]Looks for the terms in order, with possibly 'a few' words between
Far phrase{term1 term2}Looks for the terms in order, with possibly 'several' words between
ANDterm1 AND term2Requires the connected terms to be found. Unlike the basic search, it does not return results if the combination is not found.
ORterm1 OR term2Looks for either connected term (also returns results where both are on the page)
NOTNOT termIgnores pages which contain the term
plus sign+term(no space between + and term) This term must be present; if you prepend the plus sign to all terms, it is the same as using AND between them
minus sign-term(no space between - and term) This term must not be present; equivalent to the NOT operator
? wildcardte?mRequires one arbitrary character to be present at this location in the result
* wildcardte*Permits any number of arbitrary characters to be present at this location in the result; this includes no characters

Copyright 7 Aug 2011 Herbert M. Turk

Searching a Page

If the result page is large, you can use Control + F to search the page. Or in Chrome, Tools (the gear) and Find; in Internet Explorer, Tools (the gear), File, Find on this page; or for Mac, ⌘ -F.

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Last updated 1 May 2016

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