Name Search Tips
Broad Name Search
Begin by searching the website for your family records using broad queries. Remember, less is often times more. If your ancestor has an unusual first or last name, try searching the genealogy archives for one name at a time. Then refine your family search by adding additional information such as date range, occupation and location.
Note that using both first and last name search fields will return genealogy records in which the surname is automatically "near2" the first name.
- "Near2" means our genealogy search engine automatically finds occurrences of the first and last names within two words of each other.
- This helpful default search functionality automatically finds occurrences of middle names, initials and maiden names in the genealogy records, without you having to enter them in your query.
- The "near2" search command is not order specific. This means your query will retrieve the ancestor's name no matter what order it is entered: the first name then last name, or the last name then first name.
This search default brings you the most record matches containing the family member name you are searching for in our online archives.
Common Ancestor Names
If your ancestor's surname is popular, like Smith, try using some of the available search options (such as location, date range, and keyword), in order to narrow your family search to the specific Smith you are looking for (see below).
If your family member has a surname that is also a common word (like Brown, Snow, etc.), put quotation marks around the entire name.
Wrapping the family member's name in quotations will keep the name together and give you more accurate record results while helping to avoid common nouns such as "snow." Please note however that searching with quotations will eliminate records that include a middle name or initial, the name as seen in a list (e.g., Snow, John) or the name in a phrase (e.g., John and Sally Snow).
Also, try querying the genealogy archives using various name combination queries.
"John Joseph Snow"
"John J Snow"
"J J Snow"
"John and Mary Snow"
Shortened & Abbreviated Names
Newspapers would often shorten a name. Try searching for the shorter or abbreviated version of your ancestor's name.
Wm for William
Chas for Charles
Jas for James
Jos for Joseph
Saml for Samuel
Fredr for Fredrick
Benj for Benjamin
Search Names with Initials & Quotations
Also try searching for your relative’s names with their initials in quotation marks.
"A J Johnson" for Albert James Johnson
"B Fredrickson" for Benjamin Fredrickson
Also try searching nicknames: Bob, Bobbie, Rob, and Robbie would all apply for the name Robert.
Try searching for a female family member under her married name if applicable.
"Mrs John Snow"
Keep in mind that early newspapers made mistakes and the name of your family member may have been misspelled. Also keep in mind that the spelling of a name may have changed over time. Try searching for your relative in the online archives using various name spellings.
If a single letter is commonly written incorrectly, use a question mark in its place in your query to search multiple matching records. The question mark is a search engine Boolean operator that will match any alphanumeric character.
When searching for the surname Larson, try Lars?n. This search query will return matching records for Larson and Larsen.
If several letters in the ancestor's name are often incorrect, the same query can be performed using an asterisk. The asterisk search engine Boolean operator will match up to 5 characters in a word.
Fred* will find records containing Frederick, Fredrick, Freddie, etc.