Genealogy census tip: Searching online databases

Search 1810By Barry J. Ewell
When you realize that the spelling of your ancestors name can vary from census to census, there are times when your name search does not produced desired results.  The following are few ideas to consider.

  • Try using a wildcard search.  Most census databases will allow you to use these search techniques.
    • Wildcard ? question mark: This is where you use the ? mark to replace a letter.  For example, if you your name was Smith, you might also find it spelled Smyth.  Conduct your search using the Sm?th.  This will return names like Smith, Smyth, Smath, Smoth.  The spelling of the name stays the same except for the letter represented by the ?.  Please note you cannot put the ? in front of a word.
    • Wildcard *asterix. You can use the * represent an unknown number of letters.  I often will use the search for Scandinavian names.  For example, if I did a search on John*, I would get returns of Johnson, Johnsen, Johns, Johnathon.  Note you must have at least 3 letters before the *.
  • Try the using the Soundex option if it’s available which helps to identify alternative spellings. The Soundex is a coded surname (last name) index based on the way a surname sounds rather than the way it is spelled. Surnames that sound the same, but are spelled differently, like SMITH and SMYTH , have the same code and are filed together.

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