Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on March 9, 2014 in Ask Ancestry Anne, Research

Our ancestors often used a variety of spellings for their first names and surnames. You can use wildcards with the Exact filter selected to find unusual spellings of names.

There are two wildcard characters:

  • ? (question mark) : matches one character which can be anything
  • * (asterisk) : matches 0 to N characters

So if you enter Sm?th* you can match Smith, Smyth, Smithe and Smythe

Ann* will match Ann, Anne, Anna, and Annabelle

My maiden name is Gillespie, and it is very often spelled: Gillaspie, Gillispie or Gillespie or even Gillespy.

I can use wildcards to match a variety of combinations.



This matches a variety of spellings, making my search just a little bit easier.


Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne


Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at She is an active blogger on 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. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.


  1. Adrian Brienza

    Very true! While searching for my mothers direct line(Schultz) I couldn’t find much. To make a long story short, found them on a 1900 Census in Monmouth N.J. only it was spelled Shute! Go figure!

  2. BEE

    From the day I joined ancestry about 10yrs ago, I loved searching for information and documents. Not so much now. I just keep going around in circles! Yes, I’ve watched the YouTube instructions, but I still find it all very confusing.

  3. To both Nancys, nope. That’s new search.

    To Anne, I’ve also seen Gellespie, Gellaspie and Galespy for mine. Sometimes it feels like the variants are infinite 😛

  4. KLK

    Under Search Filters, you have the options of Edit Search, New Search, and Update. “New Search” refers to starting over and doing a search for someone/something else. If you choose that option, all the fields are cleared for a new search.

  5. Linda Deppner

    I think the folks at should explain what is meant by “Old Search” and “New Search.” I mentioned to a friend that I was bummed about Old Search being removed, and his blank look told me that he had no clue what I was talking about. When we Old Search die-hards speak of New Search, we’re not referring to one of the options under Search Filters, as KLK mentioned. We’re talking about a whole different search engine than the one we started out with many years ago, and have been able to continue to use at our own option until last week. Old Search is gone now, and New Search is the current search engine.

  6. Nancy Erwin

    LLG, if this is the New Search? How did you get this?
    View Record..Name..Parent or Spouse Name..Home in 1910 City,County,State.. Birth Year..Birth Place..Relation To Head Of Household.
    I need to know, I have pushed every button possible, not finding this format!
    And does this apply to all Census?
    Please explain
    Thank you

  7. BEE

    “old search” was simple to understand, and simple to use.
    I didn’t have to go “round in circles” or stand on my head!
    I’m sure at some point, I’ll figure out {and remember!} all this “drilling down”, but for now “it ain’t fun”!

  8. Wildcard searching is essential with Channel Island surnames like Le Sueur, Le Breton, De La Haye. Because Ancestry’s indexers aren’t consistent about how they store them (you get both Le Sueur and Lesueur, for example), the best way of searching is for *sueur, which picks up both.

    (The limitations of Ancestry’s search engine means that Le* won’t work, and “Le Sueur” picks up every name containing either Le or Sueur, which is a lot of extraneous material)

  9. SB

    Not really sure why wildcards are needed.

    Searching for Bann I am given, along with the correct name, Bannah; Benn; Benney; Baines; Baynes; Binns etc. Even the Marriage Bann of various couples with surnames far removed.

    Far too many results, which I think many of us are saying are ridiculous and time-wasting.

    Are you listening Ancestry?

  10. Keith Parker

    I would like to have control over priority of search. If your searching for a common name the date seems to take priority to the place and because I often don’t have an accurate date my actual choice could be pages down, even on 50 per page. Therefore a close date to my range could have a result from the other side of the country. However if I could group my results by place a greater date range would be covered in a smaller number of pages.

  11. I once found (finally) a Harry Baker on a census transcribed as Marv Baker. It was as if the bottom half of the enumerator’s writing had somehow been sliced off across the middle! I was so glad to track him down at last!

  12. Nancy,
    First of all, I am not Anne.
    Second, not sure what you’re asking but I’ll try to answer.
    Here’s the link for the page in the first image:
    You can get to it from the card catalog or the list of censuses (both are in the search tab). Do a search from that page and what you see will look like the second image in Anne’s post.

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