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Insight #10 – Maximize Wildcard Searches

Wildcard searches are commonly used to search for ancestors where the spelling of an ancestor’s name is uncertain. Below is a sample wildcard search, which is done using the * symbol.

We have talked about wildcard searches before in other articles, such as A Guide to Performing Genealogy Searches. You can refer to this article if you want to learn about the basics of a wildcard search. What we have not talked about before is that wildcard searches can be used for finding more than just spelling variations in an ancestor’s name.

Wildcard searches are particularly valuable when looking for cemetery records. Cemetery records are one of the most common types of free genealogy records found on the internet.

Often, cemetery records are generated from reading actual tombstone inscriptions. Tombstones are not always easy to read, particularly older tombstones where the letters are often indistinguishable. As a result, a large number of cemetery records on the internet have incomplete names. Usually, question marks are used to fill in for unknown letters for these records, as in

John Smi??? 1876

Thus, even if you are certain as to the spelling of an ancestor’s name, you might want to consider using wildcard searches as part of your routine search pattern.

When doing wildcard searches in genealogy, use the “*” symbol, not the “?” symbol. The “*” symbol is much more powerful.

The “*” symbol can represent multiple missing characters. The “?” symbol however represents just one missing character. Although you can string multiple “?” symbols together, you need to know exactly how many “?”s to use. One * will encompass everything multiple ?'s will find.

Bottom line: for genealogy searches don’t bother wasting your time with the “?” symbol.

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