WolframAlpha is not your typical search engine, it is a computational knowledge engine. What does that mean? Well, it doesn't search the web for hits and provide you a list of websites to look at. WolframAlpha tries to give you answers to your questions. You can choose from a variety of topics including Places & Geography, People & History, Dates & Times, and many more. It even has a Genealogy section but that doesn't show up on the homepage list.
On typical search engines, like Google, we are trying to find information on specific relatives such as where they lived, is there an obituary, where are they buried, is there a ship's list, etc. You can't do that kind of search on WolframAlpha. But you can do some interesting things. Maybe you remember when I wrote about RelativeFinder I mentioned that my only famous relative was Paris Hilton. My great-grandfather's brother's wife's first cousin is Paris Hilton's great-great grandmother. Well, what does my relationship look like for this? I asked WolframAlpha to map out great-grandfather's brother's wife's first cousin great-great granddaughter.
|WolframAlpha relational mapping. My relationship to Paris Hilton.|
What about dates? I have an obituary where the weekly newspaper was written on Thursdays. The first Thursday in May 1912 was on May 2nd, but the obituary says the person died last Friday. What was the date that he died? I can never remember if a month had 30 or 31 days so I usually search for a clendar from 1912 to do my look-up. But WolframAlpha can do the calculation for you. Just type in Friday before 2 May 1912 and see what happens.
|WolframAlpha date calculator.|
The calendar results give you the date, Friday, 26 April 1912, but there is more. You can find date formats, how long ago that was from today (in this case the person died 104 years, 3 months and 25 days ago), what day of the year it was, nearby holidays, time of sunrise and sunset, phase of the moon, etc.
Have you ever gone to the cemetery and found a headstone with the date of death and the person's age? Let's pretend the headstone says the person died 5 April 1914 and he was 76 years, 6 months and 28 days old at the time of death. How would you calculate his birth date? In WolframAlpha you write it as a calculation 5 April 1914 - 76 years - 6 months - 28 days.
|WolframAlpha computational calendar.|
What if I wanted to know the weather in a certain place on a given date? I decided to see about the weather in Dayton, Ohio on 4 July 1962. Was it a nice day for the celebrations? Did it rain? The results give min and max temperatures, conditions, wind speed, humidity, hourly results for temperature, cloud cover, humidity, pressure, wind, sunlight intensity, ranges of historical temperatures for that date, and much more.
|WolframAlpha weather data.|
|WolframAlpha value calculator|
Another fantastic thing you can do with WolframAlpha is find out a tricky word. What I mean by this is when you are reading the handwriting, or someone "accidentally" punched a hole in the document and you can only read a few letters of a word and you need to figure out what it said. You do this by typing in the letters you can read and putting an underline in for the missing letters. An example would be b__g__s. I just chose these letters at random to see what it would come up with.
|WolframAlpha word suggestions|
Can WolframAlpha help me with finding out how common a surname is? Of course it can. However, some of the surnames in my family, such as Westerheide and Aufderhaar, don't come up in the search. So I tried a more common name, Meyer. You do the search by typing in the last name Meyer.
|WolframAlpha name search|
There is much more that WolframAlpha can do to expand your genealogy research. Take a look at their examples page and try it out for yourself. They even have a mobile app available for Genealogy and History searches.
Have fun and continue learning about your ancestors.