Search this exclusive multi-volume record archive of government documents to flesh out your ancestor's life, especially where it coincided with the U.S. federal government.
Historical Documents & Records Search Tips
Historical Documents & Records Last and First Name Search
- Searching both first and last name fields returns historical documents and records where the surname is "near2" the first name.
- The search engine will automatically find the first and last name occurrences within two words of each other in the historical documents and records archive.
- Searching both first and last name helps find occurrences of middle names or initials in the historical documents and records archive.
- The "near2" search command is not order specific, so your documents and records search will retrieve the person's name regardless of how it is ordered: the first name then the last name or the last name then the first name.
- The historical documents and records search default is intended to find the most occurrences of the ancestor's name you are searching for.
- If the family member's name you are searching for is popular, like Johnson, try using some of the search options such as location, date range, and keyword, in order to do a more targeted search for the exact Johnson you are searching for (see below).
Historical Documents & Records Database Advanced Search Tips
- There are two keyword search boxes to narrow your search for historical documents and records:
- "Include keywords" box and "Exclude keywords" box (see below).
- Use the Date search box to enter a specific date or date range of the historical documents and records you are searching for.
Searching Historical Documents & Records with Keywords & Quotation Marks
- All historical documents and records queries are full-text keyword searches against OCR-generated ASCII text. This means the complete text is scanned against your search query for keyword matches.
- With the "Include keywords" box and/or "Exclude keywords" box, you can expand or narrow your historical documents and records search.
- Place key phrases in quotations such as "George Washington" in the "Include" keyword box to narrow the historical documents search to the exact name, instead of using the last/first name search that returns results matching George "near2" Washington.
- If too many names are returned in the historical documents and records archive search results, make your search more granular by entering names or places you do NOT want included in your search into the "Exclude" box.
Historical Documents & Records Boolean Operators
- Search the historical documents database using AND, OR, ADJx (order specific), NEARx (order non-specific) and Wildcards (such as "?" and "*").
Broaden or narrow your historical documents and records queries
- By clearing populated search fields to broaden your query, or by populating empty search fields to narrow your query.
Display historical documents and records search results in a variety of ways, such as:
- Best matches (this is the historical documents and records database search default).
- Oldest items (based on document and record publication dates).
- Newest items (based on document and record publication dates).
- Once the search default is changed, the current selection will remain the default until it is changed again.
Search Historical Documents & Records by Date Range
- If you know the date of the historical documents and records content you are searching for, use the "Date" search box:
- Enter a specific date or a date range—a variety of date formats are accepted.
- Examples: June 2, 1804, or 1804-1849, or June 1804-August 1949.
Search Old Historical Documents & Records Using Colonial English Variant Spellings
Several of the historical documents and records in the archives database are quite old, and the searches must accommodate Colonial English.
- The long "s" character was nearly identical to the "f" in many old English texts.
- When searching old historical documents and records on words containing the letter "s," use the "?" for "s."
- Note: this can occur whether it is the first letter, a letter within a word, or at the end of a word.
- The double "s" in keywords like Mississippi should be replaced with two wildcards in historical documents and records queries.
Old Historical Documents and Records Colonial English Search Examples:
|Modern Spelling||Colonial Spellings||Suggested Search|
- Type was set by hand for early American documents, and sometimes printers didn't have all the pieces of type needed to correctly spell a word. This resulted in letters being omitted from words, or the substitution of letters that looked similar to the ones missing.
- Many of these historic documents and records didn't use standard spellings.
- Here are some examples of conventions that were common in old documents and records:
- Use of name variants: Smith or Smythe
- Use of "e" in word endings: Chesapeake or Chesapeak
- Dropping the letter "h": Philadelphia or Philadelpia
- Examples of adding the letter "e" to word endings:
- Brown - Browne
- Chesapeake - Chefopeak or Chefopeake
- Clark - Clarke
- highways - highwayes
- Examples of the interchanging use of the letters "i" and "y":
- adjoining - adjoyning
- Pennsylvania - Pensilvania or Penfilvania
- rails - rayls
- Examples of irregular vowel usage:
- clerk - cleark
- color - colour
- Delaware - Deleware
- Elijah - Elifha
- Israel - Ifreal - Ifral
- Jehovah - Javovah
Colonial Documents & Records Search Notes:
- Use wildcards such as the question mark "?" or the asterisk "*" in your colonial documents or records searches.
- A question mark is a single-character wildcard and an asterisk is a multi-character (allows for up to 5 characters) wildcard.