Be Creative When Searching

25 Jan

It’s been a few days since my last post; so I thought I would try to take a little time today. I received a phone call this morning; from a new client. While speaking with her; I had brought up the subject of using an asterisk (*) when searching This was something she was indeed familiar with. However; I frequently mention this to folks that are not aware of the power of the asterisk. So…. for the benefit of those who are not familiar with the use of the asterisk when searching ancestry; and the many benefits of it; let me try to explain a little.

When doing any search in ancestry; ancestry only requires you to enter the first three letters of a name (first and/or last). Following the first three letters with an asterisk, will return all results that begin with those first three letters. I use this all of the time when searching ancestry; especially in census records. Allow me to use an example; and then I will explain why I search with an asterisk.

Let’s say that I am trying to locate my 5th great grandfather, Barnbabus Branham, in the 1830 census. I have seen his first name as Barnaby, Barnabus, Barney, as others. His last name is often found as Brannum, Branum, Branham, Branom; as well as others. However; there are parts of his name that are pretty consistent with all spellings. His first name always begins “Barn”. His last name always begins “Bran”. Instead of having to search using each of the possible spellings of his name, Ancestry only requires that I use the first three letters; followed by an asterisk; which will return results of all names that begin with those same letters. So….. I enter “Bar*” into the first name field. I then enter “Bran*” into the last name field. I then enter any other information I choose; such as the state and/or county I wish to search. This will find any first name beginning “Bar”; and any last name beginning “Bran”. Doing the search this way, makes it so much simpler to find my Barnabus Branham.

This is an especially great tool for finding those people whose last names were often spelled different ways. Additionally; many of the names in the ancestry records, were indexed incorrectly. The name may be spelled correctly on the original document on ancestry. But; they were often times transcribed incorrectly. If they are transcribed incorrectly. Using the magic of the asterisk; you can often times find those folks whose name may have been transcribed incorrectly.

By using the asterisk; there is no need to try to search for our ancestors using various spellings of the name. Just enter in the first three (or more) letters; followed by the asterisk. You may just find someone that you had previously been able to find on one of those census records; or some other record on Ancestry.

There are other good search tips as well. But, the asterisk is something I use everyday, when searching Ancestry. Give it a try.

I genuinely hope someone finds this tip useful. Happy searching.


Posted by on January 25, 2012 in General Genealogy


4 responses to “Be Creative When Searching

  1. Mike Cross

    January 30, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    great hint, I intend to try it in just a few minutes. I found my great grandmother in the archives in DC in the 1930 census and her name was spelled incorrectly but I found her using the soundex. I since have lost that information and cannot locate using normal means. Maybe this will work/


    • digginbones

      January 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      Good luck in the search. Let us know how you come out.

  2. Mike Cross

    February 15, 2012 at 5:07 am

    I did just what you suggested more or less I was looking for Frances Morphis in Greensboro,, NC in 1930 and had had no luck. This time I went to Ancestry and just went to search. I put in for the name M*r*s, birthplace NC, lived in Greensboro, Guilford Co, NC, 1930 and restricted it to the 1930 census. 6th item on the list came up with Frances Marplis in Gilmer twnshp, Greensboro, Guliford, NC. I knew it was the correct person because the property was in the family unitl the 1980’s and she had lived there in 1920. PLUS when looking at the original document the name is clearly Morphis. The tale of the p actually fell adjacent to a letter in the name below and the hump on the h was not distinct. Since the name is rather unusal even in the Carolinias I can see why the trancriber could mistake it for Marplis. BINGO! problem solved. Thanks a million

    Mike Cross

  3. Rex Bertram

    February 15, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Glad to hear that my tips were useful to you. Transcription errors and spelling errors were very common in the census records. Using the asterisk can help us find many of those folks.


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