• By Dawne

    It’s common and it’s frustrating to perform a search in an online genealogy database and not find the person or family being sought. The next time this happens, try these strategies:
  • Read the description of the database. What are its parameters? Most likely the marriage database that is titled “Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941” does not include all counties’ marriages for all of the years between those inclusive dates.
  • If the parameters of the database are not described, do a “spot-check” with a common first name (John) or last name (Smith) and the year or county needed. If you get no results, such as in a marriage database, you can be relatively certain that county – or that year’s – marriages are not included.
  • Check for the source of the information in the database. Its source might give you a clue as to how complete the database is.
  • Consider alternate spellings for your ancestor’s name – both first name and surname. This might include common ones, such as Steven and Stephen, but also those foreign prefixes like Mc, O’ and de that might have been seen by the indexer as a middle initial. (John McDonald might have been indexed as John M. Donald, for example.)
  • Use wildcards. Some databases allow “?” in place of a single letter and “*” in place of several letters. This will allow you to search for Jens?n and get Jenson and Jensen results in the same search. Or Pax* will bring back Paxon, Paxton, and any other surname beginning with “Pax."
  • When searching for a family with a common surname, such as in the census, search for the person with the most unusual given name in order to narrow the results. James and Elizabeth Jones had children named William, James, John, Zora and Jennie. Searching for Zora might help pinpoint this family more easily than using the name of James, the father.
  • Omit the first name – or surname – of the target individual and use other parameters, such as age, place of birth and place of residence. You can search for all Johns living in a particular county and state in 1910 who were born circa 1856 in Tennessee, for example.
  • Search using no target name, but adding parents’ first names or father’s surname and mother’s maiden name. This is especially useful to find second marriages for daughters of the couple.
  • Take your “blinders” off and expand your search beyond what you think you know. Maybe the family was living somewhere you didn’t expect at the time of a census enumeration.
  • In the census, browse page by page in rural areas instead of searching for a name.
  • Consider that surnames and given names might have been reversed on the census schedule and therefore might have been indexed that way.
  • Perhaps the most important tip is to think “person” instead of name: Age, birth place, gender, residence. In some cases, people have been enumerated on the census with completely wrong surnames, not just misread or differently-spelled surnames.