Friday, April 24, 2015

Wild Card Searches

Perhaps we need to teach our patrons to be more creative in their searches. Sometimes they will be too specific to find what they are looking for. The "exact match" should only be used in rare cases. "Widening the search" may need to go beyond using just the name and the year and country of birth.

Surnames that have been incorrectly recorded or badly indexed/transcribed become a special problem. Most of us have a few of those in our family trees. There are times you need to search a specific place looking for a first name but ignoring the surname. First name searches are notoriously tedious. But if you can add family relationships to other family members who will be in the same document, it narrows the results. The disadvantage is that you can't know in advance who will be in the same document.

Using Wild Card Searches

There is real power in "wild card" searches. In card games, a "wild card" is a card that can represent any other card. In search forms, you can commonly use "?" to represent any single letter and "*" to represent any group of letters. On major sites, forget about "?" and just use the more general purpose "*".

I have a great-great grandfather named James. He lived in southern England in 1817-1891, a time and place where records are generally very good. Unfortunately, his surname gets spelled about 20 different ways. Some of these are: Fosberry, Fausbrey, Forsbury, Fosbury, Foursberey, Feresbury,  ... You get the picture! This is a prefect situation for doing wildcard searches. Which letters will probably occur in all renditions of his name? F*SB*R*Y

So, if instead of searching for James Fosberry, I search for James F*sb*r*y, I have a much better chance of finding him. It will bring up a much larger list of search results, but I will only have to go through it once rather than going through 20 smaller lists of search results. And last night, I finally found his marriage certificate on by using this wild card search. His name is clearly written as "James Fausbury". I could recognize his wife's name too. "Ann Walder" is one of the variations she used. I believe that she and James were both illiterate, so this would contribute to the confusion. The marriage date on the certificate was a year prior to the birth of their son George in the same county. It is definitely the right couple.