Internet Scavenger Hunt

Your grandmother, who was born in 1908, once told you about her uncle, Berton Isaac Staples. It seems Uncle Bert and his wife left Vermont and "moved West". He only returned once, but when he did, he brought your grandmother several pieces of Indian jewelry. Your main research project is giving you problems, so you decide to spend a little time trying to uncover more information about this unusual relative. What better place than the Internet?

This search may be a 'for fun' search, but you never know what might turn up. Create an "Internet Search Log" to track your progress and answer these questions along the way. If you need help, click on the red question marks for clues.

Computer tips for creating your search log entries:
Need help?
  1. Let's compare two search engines: Google and Enter this search parameter in both: berton isaac staples.
    1. How many results did you get in each search?
    2. Does it make a difference if you capitalize the words? Burton Isaac Staples
    3. Take a look at the top results in both lists. Do any of them look promising? Copy the links of all sites you visit. If no relevant results are found, make a note of that fact.

  2. Metasearch engines search other search engines' results. Visit and repeat the search for berton isaac staples.
    1. How many results did you get?
    2. What search engines provided those results?

Obviously, we must narrow down the number of results. Let's investigate a few of Google's tricks.

  1. Exact phrase searches always narrow results dramatically. Try this search: "berton isaac staples".
    1. How many results did you get?
    2. Did you uncover anything new? Don't forget to keep a record of each site you visit!

  2. Don't forget that indexes and dictionaries frequently list people last name first. When using exact phrase searches, always take this into account. Search for "staples berton".
    1. How many results did you get?
    2. Are there any new results?

  3. Google allows an interesting wildcard: an asterisk in the middle of a phrase. Try this search: "berton * staples".
    1. How many results did you get?
    2. What new relevant references did you get, and what is the common denominator in these new results?
    3. Does this give you any ideas for new name variations?

  4. Exact phrase searches may cut results too drastically. Adding additional keywords to your search parameters will improve your results. When researching your family history, two important keyword types are location and record type. The only location we had when we started this search was the state of Vermont. Add that to your search parameters: berton isaac staples vermont.
    1. How many results did you get?
    2. The first result in my list is a link to Encyclopedia, Vermont Biography. This is a GoogleBooks full view digitization. This means it's now in the public domain, has been digitized, can be read on line, or downloaded. It's definitely a must-read. What new names, associations, and places can you find in this book?
    3. Write a source citation for this online book.
Need help?
  1. Look for additional results from Google Books, Try the following: "berton * staples" OR "staples berton". Wow!
    1. How many results did you get?
    2. Most of these results are snippet views. If that is the case, we would need to find the book in a nearby library, purchase a copy, or borrow a copy through inter-library loan. Let's investigate the possibility of finding a copy of the book, Navajo weaving: its technic and history. In the menu column on the right, click the link, "Find in a library". Where would you go to read this book?
    3. Due to legal constraints, the contents of many of the books listed in GoogleBooks can no longer be searched. One of those books appeared in an earlier search for Berton Isaac Staples, Who's Who in New Mexico (1937). See how many different entries for this volume appear on WorldCat.
    4. Because many libraries are not part of OCLC's WorldCat, it's a good idea to bookmark local library catalog databases and search them separately. One of these libraries is the Sutro Library, part of the California State Library system. Can you find a copy of Who's Who in New Mexico in the Sutro Library?
Need help?
  1. Don't forget to search for name variations. Include all these possibilities: nicknames, initials, and spelling variations. Phrase searches should be made in surname first order as well as given name first.
    1. What name variations should be searched for Berton Isaac Staples?
    2. Try a few name variations in the following:
      1. Google
      2. Google Books
      3. Google Scholar
  1. You tell a friend of yours about your research. She says, "I know that name! It came up in my Grearson research. Wait, let me get a reference for you." She couldn't find much, but she did have this URL: What happened when you tried this link? How can you find a copy of the original page contents?
    1. Some search engines, Google and Yahoo Search among them, include "cached" pages, a copy of the page as it was when it was indexed. If you had found this link in a list of search engine results, a cached page might be available.
    2. A little known tool is the Internet Archive's "WayBack Machine" located at Copy the URL for the missing page; insert it in the "WayBack Machine" search box; then, click "Take Me Back". This may give you an archived copy, or copies, of the missing page. Try it!
    3. If all else fails, you can try to contact the page's author and ask for information.
Need help?
  1. Each new search usually uncovers a few new keywords. In addition to Berton Isaac Staples and associated name variations, you should have several new keywords.
    1. What is Staples' wife's name? That's a new surname keyword.
    2. Where did he live? You should now know towns and counties in at least two states, i.e. many new place keywords.
    3. With what organizations was he associated? These are possible subject keywords.

This search exercise worked with common search engines and few tools. Although not part of this exercise, your internet search could continue with these sources discussed in our class. Practice with your own search problem.

Please mail comments and suggestions to Susan Johnston at Email me

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