Breakthrough! – A Review of – the Latest in Genealogical Search Engines

I haven’t made a breakthrough on any of my direct-line ancestors in years. All the easy research was done years ago, and most breakthroughs are now made after extensive research. However, prompted by the need to write a review of a new search engine, and with a little flexibility & persistence on my part, I now have the name of a previously unknown fourth great-grandfather, as well as vital record dates, and burial places for family members in Rensselaer County, New York. I was very pleased when I had the chance a couple weeks ago to play with a new search developed by Cliff Shaw. Cliff is probably best known for bringing us a site called years ago. His latest project is a free search engine called searches genealogy-related websites for terms that you type into the search-box found on the home page of the site. According to the website, Mocavo searches free genealogy content on the web. The search includes “genealogy message boards, family trees, state and local historical societies, the Library of Congress, National Archives, Ellis Island, Find A Grave, the Internet Archive, various U.S. state archives, and many tens of thousands of genealogy sites built by individuals. Similar to other search engines, honors site owners by linking directly to their content.” I noted right-off that it was also searching digitized data at BYU servers, as well as digitized data from the Allen County Public Library. Many of the sources available to use today haven’t been around all that long, so an exacting search engine, combined with fresh content makes breakthroughs seem all that much more possible.

When Cliff initially sent me the link, and asked me to try the site out, but keep my mouth shut, I spent maybe a half hour trying various searches. I was impressed, and told him so. However, I’ve been very busy with a rapidly growing Family Roots Publishing Company business, and couldn’t get back to doing anything in depth until Friday. About noon I started searching for two of my my brick-wall ancestors. After searching for information on Timothy Titus (of New Perth, Washington County, NY), and coming up with the same things I already had, I moved on to Ebenezer Stephens, who died in Rensselaer County, New York in 1825. Ebenezer was my 5th great-grandfather, the father of Sally Anthony, and grand-father of Maria Anthony, who married William Canfield. William was the father of William Henry Canfield, about whom I wrote just a few days ago. I spent several hours searching, using, and getting hits, but most often finding items that I’d posted online, or data I’d seen before.

According to his will, dated 28 April 1825, and probated in Rensselaer County, Ebenezer Stephens had left his “mansion house” to his wife, Elizabeth, and granted his search resultsdaughters, Harriet Stephens, and Sally Anthony the right to live in the family home with their mother. His son, Ebenezer Stephens, was given the real estate and personal estate not otherwise disposed of. Upon the death of Elizabeth, cash was to be distributed to Betsy Raynor, Sally Anthony, John Stephens, Harriet Stephens, Susan Rheubottom, and George Stephens (relationships not given). The will was probated 3 November 1825. So I had an approximate death date and a few names to work with. I had proof that Sally Anthony was a fourth great-grandmother, but didn’t know her husband’s name. I found that Ebenezer Stephens was her father when the Rensselaer County Probate abstracts were published in book form a few years ago. They can now be found on the web. Over the years I’ve searched for the Stephens without much luck. I wasn’t having any luck with either. So I got to thinking that maybe I should be searching on the surname of Stevens instead. I’ve done this in the past with no luck, but as I tell folks when speaking on brick-walls, sometimes we just have to wait until the data we need gets posted and is searchable before we find what we’re looking for. So I searched for <"Ebenezer Stevens" Rensselaer> using I got 199 hits, which seemed like a lot… I started checking each hit, going to the website, and using Control F and the term “Ebenezer Stephens” to search the entire page. I was on the 6th page (with 10 pages per hit), when I ran across a page from the “Interments in Rensselaer Co.” Searching on the page specifically for Ebenezer Stevens, I got two hits. The database was such that I found it easier to read by grabbing the lower right-hand corner, and dragging it out over nearly 35 inches of computer screen (2 monitors). The second Ebenezer Stephens was listed as the father of Sally Stephens, who died 30 January 1829 at age 48. Her husband was Tillinghast Anthony, and she was buried in Buckley #1 Cemetery in Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co., NY. I then found Ebenezer Stevens burial in the same cemetery, having died 5 May 1825 at age 72. I also found other family members buried in Buckley #1, or other Rensselaer County cemeteries. Breakthrough!
Tillinghast Anthony, husband of Sally Stevens, who died 30 Jan 1829, age 48. Father was Ebenezer Stevens, buried in Buckley #1, Schaghticoke, Rensselaer Co., NY

How long this massive USGenweb database has been posted I really don’t know. It seems to have about 92,000 entries currently. If I’d searched the Rensselaer County GenWeb site earlier, I most likely would have found the data before now, but that goes for all genealogical data. It’s often just setting out there waiting for us. Because Cliff Shaw built a fine and dandy new search for us, I found a new dead ancestor. Thanks, Cliff.

Now go try out yourself.

Disclaimer – I have no affiliation whatsoever to I’m just a user, like the rest of you.

Author: Leland Meitzler

Leland K. Meitzler founded Heritage Quest in 1985, and has worked as Managing Editor of both Heritage Quest Magazine and The Genealogical Helper. He currently operates Family Roots Publishing Company (, writes daily at, writes the weekly Genealogy Newsline, conducts the annual Salt Lake Christmas Tour to the Family History Library, and speaks nationally, having given over 2000 lectures since 1983.

4 thoughts on “Breakthrough! – A Review of – the Latest in Genealogical Search Engines”

  1. I only recently discovered the search engine myself; “liked” yesterday and today found your post on my Facebook wall. Imagine my surprise, when reading through your article, to see that you have have written about someone in our database (William Henry CANFIELD). So I did some quick checking, and sure enough, Leland is my husband’s 5c2r!!! The two of you are recorded in my database. Small world! Feel free to write!

  2. I’m finding Mocavo is bringing up some great resources I didn’t know about, and Google won’t find them because it searches too broadly. Your examples here are great, and lucky you to break through a very tough brickwall!

  3. The problem with searches is that the search is written to use “frames”. This means that the original URL is never displayed and the Mocavo URL is not suitable for citation. In a sense, it claims “ownership” of information that does not belong to it. I would be very happy with this search, except I hate the fact I cannot see the correct URL.

  4. Lois, the original URL is listed on the results page; additionally you can “remove” the Mocavo header (noted on the upper right of the screen somewhere if I recall correctly). Several sites use the header type set up, including However, there is nearly always a way to remove it. Hope this helps!

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