by Juliana SmithÂ
As I mentioned in my scribblings on the blog Monday night, the Ranked and Exact Search combined make a powerful team of tools. That said, Iâ€™m still a little partial and I favor the Exact Search. Itâ€™s like an old faithful friend and has found many an ancestor for me! I think that I like it so much because with the advanced search fields, you can manipulate your searches to effectively focus your search. Here are some tips Iâ€™ve found useful in using the Exact Search.
Global searches are a good shortcut, but sometimes it pays to go directly to the database of interest. The databases at Ancestry.com, particularly the larger ones, often have customized search boxes that are tailored specifically for that database. For example, the search box for passenger lists will have fields for information that is typically found on that record (i.e., name, birth year, gender, ports of departure and arrival, place of origin, ship name, estimated arrival year, and keyword). The same applies to census, vital records, etc. They are customized to best search the information within. If youâ€™re familiar with what databases are available for a particular location, you can find a complete list through the siteâ€™s main search page by selecting your area of interest from the maps in the lower left corner.
Less is More
In contrast with the Ranked Search, where you want to add as much information as possible, with the Exact Search, often youâ€™re better off entering less search criteria. If youâ€™re getting too many results, rotate in various combinations of information until you get the desired results.
Sometimes it helps to consider the fields that are your options. Which is more likely to be misunderstood, the name of the state they are from or a surname? Try searching without the surname and include other pieces of information instead. Use a given name, approximate age, and place of birth, rather than trying to figure out how the enumerator mangled your ancestorâ€™s foreign-sounding surname.
Look at Some Samples
Explore the database and look at how information is listed for other people. For English-born people, did they consistently list the place of birth as England or was it sometimes Great Britain? If you are entering that as part of your search criteria, youâ€™ll want to know. How are other fields formatted? With the 1880 index, there is a quirk for the New York metropolitan area. If youâ€™re searching for someone in Brooklyn, you donâ€™t want to use Kings in the county field, even though it is the county. The location for that area is designated as â€œKings (Brooklyn), New York City-Greater, NY.â€ This affects the search. You should enter â€œKingsâ€ in the Township, rather than the county box, because â€œNew York City-Greaterâ€ is in the county spot. Itâ€™s the same for Queens, Staten Island (Richmond), and Manhattan, although if you enter â€œNew Yorkâ€ in the county field for Manhattan, it will pick it up because it is part of â€œNew York City-Greater,â€ but you will also be pulling in the other three areas as well.
Experiment with other features as well. Wildcard searches allow you to replace one letter with â€œ?,â€ or any number of letters up to six with an â€œ*.â€ However, these will only work if the first three letters of the name are there.
Soundex searches can be performed by selecting Soundex in the â€œSpellingâ€ box, usually located next to the name fields. This brings up similar sounding names, based on the Soundex code. You can learn more about the Soundex code and convert your surnames at Rootsweb.com.
Although the search engine will automatically convert the names for you when you do a search, itâ€™s a good idea to convert all the variants of your surname as well. Sometimes, one letter will throw off the code and wonâ€™t include that name. For example, my great-grandfatherâ€™s name was Mekalski, but in many records it is spelled Menkalski. The code for Mekalski is M242, but Menkalski is M524. Because I know this, I know that a Soundex search wonâ€™t pull up both variants and I need to do two searches.
Take It One Step Further
Once youâ€™ve made a find, you can take it a step further. If youâ€™ve found your ancestor in a database like the New York Passenger Lists, 1820-50 (7485), you canâ€™t just scroll through the images by ship like most other Ancestry.com passenger list databases and see everyone on the manifest. I found one of my ancestors, John Dooner in this database arriving on the Ship Ganges on 10 July 1839. I wanted to browse the manifest for other familiar names. Leaving the name fields blank, I entered Ship Ganges in the ship name field, the year 1839 in both places for the arrival year. I found what appears to be his future wife, Eliza Moran, sailing on the same ship. (Both ages are off a few years, so I want to do a little more checking to make sure itâ€™s not just a coincidence, particularly because Moran is such a common name.)
These are a few of my favorite tips for using the Exact Search. I hope that youâ€™ll contribute yours in the comments section.
Juliana Smith has been the editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than seven years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at: mailto:[email protected], but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.