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Tip of the day...Make use of wildcards

ProfilePosted byOptionsPost Date


Jonesey Report 29 Oct 2009 08:29

Wildcards can be effective query tools if you are searching for words or names with alternate spellings, but don't wish to view all the extra hits that other methods (such as Soundex) searching can produce.

Wildcards are special symbols that are used in searching to represent a number of unknown letters in a word. Ancestry uses both the asterisk “*” and the question mark “?”. Many other sites search engines also allow you to use “*” and some sites such as Freebmd or the 1911 Census site even allow you to leave a complete blank or to only type in part of a name.

On Ancestry for example the “?” represents just a single letter. Using their example, a search for Johns?n will return both Johnsen and Johnson.

An asterisk “*” represents several unknown characters. Again using their example, a search for John* will return surnames such as John, Johnson or Johnston. A search for a forename fran* will return names like Fran, Frances, Francis, Frank or Frankie.

So if you are not sure of the exact name or how it might have been spelled it is worth experimenting by trying a wildcard search.


Ancestry have broadened the scope of how wildcards can now be used. Here are the new rules:

Here are the new rules:

• You can now use a wildcard for either the first or last letter (but not both). So, “Han*” or “*son” are OK, while “*ans*” is not.

• Names must still contain at least three non-wildcard characters. So, “Ha*n” is okay, but “Ha*” isn’t.

Since this thread was started Ancestry has changed - you can now use *?* at the beginning of a word.

Good luck.


brummiejan Report 29 Oct 2009 08:43

Thanks heaps Jonesey. Have always felt confused about wildcard searches so very helpful


Jilliflower Report 29 Oct 2009 08:50

Please, uncle Jonesey, can I use this method on GR?
thanks for another leg-up


GlitterBaby Report 29 Oct 2009 08:52

Learnt something today as I had not realised you could use "?" on Ancestry.

Good tips as always Jonesey


Jilliflower Report 29 Oct 2009 08:55

"when I get Ancestry" from Santa, how would I look for the name ROATH, ROAF, ROTH, ROAFE etc?
Have just experimented on GR and it wasn't successful - but I might have asked too much


InspectorGreenPen Report 29 Oct 2009 08:56

I would just add that Ancestry will only accept Wild Cards if there are at least three letters preceding it.


Jonesey Report 29 Oct 2009 09:00


Look on the bright side after Santa has been you will not need to do look ups on GR.

On Ancestry you do need to put in the first 3 letters before a wildcard symbol so you will need to do 2 searches. 1) ROA* and 2) ROT*


Jilliflower Report 29 Oct 2009 09:05

Now you've made me want Ancestry NOW, NOW, NOW, uncle Jonesey
You do like to tease... Perhaps Santa could bring me YOU instead of Ancestry (as well as?)


InspectorGreenPen Report 29 Oct 2009 09:05

So, Jill, ROA* would be ok, but would not find ROTH, which you would need to search separately.


AllanC Report 29 Oct 2009 13:15

FMP will accept * as a wildcard; you can even put it at start and finish. For example *llin* would find Allins, Allinson, Allington, Ellington, Wellington, etc.
They also have a useful "include variations" tick box; for example using it to search for "Susan" will also find Suzanne and Susannah.


AllanC Report 29 Oct 2009 14:28

Will it find Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch?


GlitterBaby Report 22 Jan 2010 18:44



Jonesey Report 6 May 2010 08:20


~Looby Loo~

~Looby Loo~ Report 6 May 2010 08:37

Hi Jonesey,

Thanks a lot for the tip. I never understood 'wildcards' before so left them alone. Now with your help I will give them ago, especially as I have a surname that's been spelt several ways and having lost the family in 1861 & 1881. The wildcard might just show them up.

Thanks Jonesey, good luck to you in your own research,

Regards, Lou


itsmefromupnorth Report 6 May 2010 21:45

Since this thread was started Ancestry has changed - you can now use *?* at the beginning of a word. I was trying to find the name Kerry and entered ?erry and found it transcribed as Terry..... brilliant


Jonesey Report 30 Nov 2011 16:12

:-D :-D :-D


JoyDean Report 5 Sep 2012 16:59



Kense Report 24 Jun 2014 09:03

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