Improved Wildcard flexibility has been one of the our most requested feature updates. So to start out 2010 on a happy note, we’ve updated our wildcard functionality.
Previously, you had to use three characters and then either a * or a ?. We’ve made a few changes:
- Now you can put a wildcard first, such as *son or ?atthew to catch all of those crazy spellings and variations that our ancestors came up with.
- Either the first or last character must be a non-wildcard character. For example, Han* and *son are okay, but not *anso*
- Names must contain at least three non-wildcard characters. For example, Ha*n is okay, but not Ha*
These changes apply to both simple genealogy search and advanced search, and both old and new search.
Do wildcards work with exact matches?
Wildcards do work with exact matches and they will give you a lot more flexibility in how you retrieve records. Note: they do not work with Soundex matches, just exact or ranked.
Exactly what is a wildcard?
We allow you to use two wildcards in your name searches: the * (asterisk or star) and the ? (question mark).
The * matches zero or more characters. So if you type in Ann*, this will match names such as Ann, Anne, Anna, or Annabelle.
The ? matches one and only one character. So if you type in Ann?, this will match names such as Anne or Anna but not Ann or Annabelle. If you use Ann?* you will match Anne, Anna or Annabelle, because you must match at least one character after the nn.
So if you are having a problem finding a Smith, you might try Sm?th, as this will match both Smyth and Smyth or you might try Sm?th? so you can match Smithe, or Smythe.
Or if you searching in one of those sets of historical documents where all the T‘s look like J‘s or S‘s, try using a ? or a * at the beginning of the name.
If you are searching for names such as Sally or any other name such with a double letter, try substituting the second letter with a *. This way if it wasn’t written down that way, you’ll still get a match. Mat*hew matches Mathew and Matthew.
Remember, just because you know how the name is spelled, doesn’t mean that’s how your ancestor wrote it down, or the person who recorded the name wrote it down, or how the person who transcribed the document indexed it. I was looking at a document for my g-g-g-grandfather, Tartlon Gillespie just yesterday, and his last name was spelled Gilaspie, Gillaspie and Gillispie all on the same document. I always search for Gillespie as Gill?spie just to cover the most common three spellings I know of.
If you’ve got other examples of using the * or the ? wildcard successfully, post them here as a comment. You might just help someone find that ancestor that can’t locate.
Happy Searching and Happy New Year!
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.
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[…] that 2010 is going to be an exciting year for Search at ancestry.com. As you know, we launched expanded wild card functionality at the beginning of this year. But that was only the start of things to […]