Posted by Ancestry Australia and New Zealand on January 4, 2010 in Search

Improved wildcard flexibility has been one of the our most requested feature updates. So to start out 2010 on a happy note, we’ve updated our wildcard functionality.

Previously, you had to use three characters and then either a * or a ?. We’ve made a few changes:

  • Now you can put a wildcard first, such as *son or ?atthew to catch all of those crazy spellings and variations that our ancestors came up with.
  • Either the first or last character must be a non-wildcard character. For example, Han* and *son are okay, but not *anso*
  • Names must contain at least three non-wildcard characters. For example, Ha*n is okay, but not Ha*

These changes apply to both simple search and advanced search, and both old and new search.

Do wildcards work with exact matches?

Wildcards do work with exact matches and they will give you a lot more flexibility in how you retrieve records. Note: they do not work with Soundex matches, just exact or ranked.

Exactly what is a wildcard?

We allow you to use two wildcards in your name searches: the * (asterisk or star) and the ? (question mark).

The * matches zero or more characters. So if you type in Ann*, this will match names such as Ann, Anne, Anna, or Annabelle.

The ? matches one and only one character. So if you type in Ann?, this will match names such as Anne or Anna but not Ann or Annabelle. If you use Ann?* you will match Anne, Anna or Annabelle, because you must match at least one character after the nn.

Some examples

So if you are having a problem finding a Smith, you might try Sm?th, as this will match both Smyth and Smyth or you might try Sm?th? so you can match Smithe, or Smythe.

Or if you searching in one of those sets of historical documents where all the T’s look like J’s or S’s, try using a ? or a * at the beginning of the name.

If you are searching for names such as Sally or any other name such with a double letter, try substituting the second letter with a *. This way, even if it wasn’t written down that way, you’ll still get a match. Mat*hew matches Mathew and Matthew.

Remember, just because you know how the name is spelled, doesn’t mean that’s how your ancestor wrote it down, or the person who recorded the name wrote it down, or how the person who transcribed the document indexed it. Take the name Gillespie, for example. In a record for one Tartlon Gillespie, his last name was spelled Gilaspie, Gillaspie and Gillispie all on the same document so searching for Gillespie as Gill?spie will cover the most common three spellings.

If you’ve got other examples of using the * or the ? wildcard successfully, post them here as a comment. You might just help someone find that ancestor they can’t locate.

Happy searching!

1 Comment

  1. Mrs Shirley Tyler

    Thank you for your encouragement and for working so hard to help people like me! I seem to have run into a brick wall but messages like your ‘wildcard’ makes me continue to try the ‘next thing’ to find my most elusive relative -so far!! Many thanks Regards Shirl.

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