When last searching for Mary, we considered that facts such as a birth date could be misstated or misinterpreted. But what about her name? By limiting a search to exact spellings, it is possible that the creative spellings used in various records can be missed. It's important to use every trick in your toolbox to find those hidden records.
One extremely useful tool is the wildcard search. Both Ancestry and Family Search allow wildcard searches and many other sites do also. Be sure to read the help pages for wildcard searching and also review them every once in a while, as the rules change over time.
There are two wildcards you can use and there is one big "gotcha".
First the "gotcha". Both sites require three letters in addition to one or more wildcards. If you are searching for a short name such as Lou Day, then wildcards are not going to be of any help at all. There are a few other rules that you'll want to know, so do read the help pages.
For an example of the two wildcards, let's look at Mary Maddox Neff and her sister-in-law, a member of Mary's FAN club. The wildcard that is used makes a huge difference in these searches.
- Mar? Madd?x
- Mar* Ta*m*g*
The Question MarkI'm not a fan of the question mark (?). It represents exactly one letter. So the first search will find Mary Maddox or Marg. Maddux, but not Maria Madox. There are so many creative spellings for names that limiting the matching to one exact letter seems wasteful to me, though you may find it useful in some situations.
The AsteriskThe second search is far more powerful, as the asterisk (*) represents zero, one or several letters. Searching for Mary's sister-in-law is tricky, as the surname is spelled several different ways, as is her first name, which is Mary on her tombstone and Maria on the marriage record. The family name is spelled as:
- Tammage on the tombstones
- Tallmadge in the 1850 census
- Talmadge in 1860
- Talmage in 1870
- Tammadge on the 1853 marriage record of Maria and David Maddox
Here are examples of the many varied results from Ancestry and Family Search. You'll notice that some results, such as the first one, match the wildcards, but don't match the name you want. That's expected and you'll have to just ignore them. It's a case of seeing too many results rather than too few.
|Family Search Results|
Be sure to try out wildcards for yourself to look for those elusive ancestors.