In last week’s newsletter, I began a series of articles that will take a look at the various search options available at Ancestry. This week’s installment will focus on Exact Search. The Exact Search stands in stark contrast to the Ranked Search, which we discussed last week.Â Where the Ranked Search is a bit â€œfuzzy,â€ the Exact Search is precise. It does exactly what we tell it to do–much like weâ€™d all like our children to behave!
The danger here is that one piece of information not entered exactly as it appears in the database can throw the whole search. With Exact Search, less is more–the less information you add, the more hits you get. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s best when doing an exact search, you want to start with just a few basic facts and then narrow your search slowly until you get a manageable number of hits. Rotate in and out different pieces of information, based on which search terms are more or less likely to be correct. For example, a given name is probably less likely to be misinterpreted by a transcriber than a surname, particularly an uncommon surname.
How Do I Do an Exact Search?
To start an Exact Search, simply check the box at the top of the search template that says, â€œExact Matches Only.â€ As I mentioned last week, you want to be aware what type of search youâ€™re performing because this option is â€œstickyâ€–it will default to the last search type you used. I try to make it a habit when Iâ€™m entering my search criteria to double check and make sure I want the type of search that is selected. Sometimes I swear gremlins come in and change it on me.
Exploring the â€œLess is Moreâ€ Concept
To illustrate the â€œless is moreâ€ concept, letâ€™s do a â€œplay-along searchâ€ like the one we did last week. From the Advanced Search page, enter:
John Szucs, born in 1906 in the U.S.A. in Ohio
(You can click on the image above to view the results of this search.) All of these records pertain to my grandfather. There are two census records for him living in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio; his death record; and a passenger arrival record showing him and my grandmother returning from an anniversary trip to Europe.
Now just for the heck of it, letâ€™s add his county of birth–Jefferson County. Since I know thatâ€™s where heâ€™s born, that can only help, right? Wrong. Adding Jefferson County eliminates all of the hits except his death record. Why? Because none of the other records index the birth county. The census will show the county he lived in for those years, but they only give the state in which he was born.
Making Exact Search More Flexible
There are several ways we can make the Exact Search more flexible. First, you could de-select the â€œExactâ€ box only on certain fields, but this will take you back into the world of Ranked Search, where youâ€™ll see the results ranked by best match again, rather than the list of hits by database that you see when you do an Exact Search.
There is also a Soundex option available from the homepage that is only available when you have the Exact Matches Only box checked. (When youâ€™re doing a Ranked Search, it will automatically include Soundex options, as well as some other name variations.) Soundex is also available on many of the individual database search pages as well.
Letâ€™s do another â€œplay-alongâ€ example, using the same gentleman I used in last weekâ€™s article–my great-grandfather, Raymond Dyer. On the homepage, enter
Raymond Dyer, Soundex (from the drop-down box that follows the name),
lived in U.S.A. and New York.
Last week with one Ranked Search we were able to locate Raymond in four of the six enumerations that he was alive for and that are currently available–1880, 1910, 1920, and 1930. With this one other search using Soundex, we pick him up in the remaining censuses–1870 and 1900. In 1870, his last name was indexed as Dyre, and in 1900 it is listed as Dyar.
Soundex Tip: Check the Soundex codes for common variations youâ€™ve found for the surname you are researching so you know that your Soundex Searches are covering all the bases. For example, my great-grandfatherâ€™s last name appears on Mekalski on some records, and as Menkalski. I believe that the name was spelled with a diacritic over the e, which according to â€œFirst Names of the Polish Commonwealthâ€ by William Hoffman and George W. Helon, the nasal â€œeâ€ with the diacritic sounds like â€œen.â€ Checking the codes for these two variations, I find that Mekalski is coded M242 and Menkalski is M524. Because of the different codes, a Soundex Search for Mekalski wouldnâ€™t turn up variations of Menkalski, so Iâ€™d have to do two searches to capture both. Itâ€™s a good idea to keep a list of name variations and the corresponding codes handy, so that you donâ€™t miss any during your searches. You can get Soundex Codes for names by using the RootsWeb Soundex Converter.Â
Another way to loosen up Exact Searches is with wildcards. Ancestry currently allows for the use of either an asterisk (*) or question mark (?) in searches, although at present, neither can be used within the first three letters of the name. (Searches of that magnitude would eat up bandwidth slowing down or blocking searches for other users significantly.) The asterisk replaces anywhere between zero to six characters, and the question mark replaces one character. Since the asterisk would clearly cover instances where one character was misinterpreted, thatâ€™s the most commonly used wildcard, but if you were getting too many hits returned with a search, you might try the question mark to narrow that down a bit.
As an example, letâ€™s use Mary Tob*n, born 1772 and since Mary liked to lie about her age, letâ€™s give her a wide berth and also add some flexibility to the date field by selecting â€œ+/ â€“ 10â€ years. This finds my fourth great-grandmother in the 1850 and 1870 censuses, and her passenger arrival record as well. The variant spellings it picked up included the original spelling of Tobin, as well as Toban, Toben, and Tobbin.
Next week, weâ€™ll continue our look at searching options at Ancestry by getting a little closer to the databases, which allows us to really unleash some of the power behind Ancestry searches.
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.