Wildcard search

The wildcard feature allows you to increase the breadth of a search by using the symbols ‘?’ and ‘*’ to replace individual letters, or sequences of letters, within the 'first names' and 'last name' fields. It is useful if you are unsure of the spelling, or cannot find what you are looking for with the usual spelling of a name.

How to use the wildcards

The wildcard can be substituted for a character anywhere within the name, including the first letter. You can also use several wildcards in a name in combination with one another.

Entries in the field must contain a minimum of two characters, in addition to the wildcard. For example, M* and *m, will not be accepted, but M*m, Ma*, or *ma will all activate a search.

The wildcard symbols

The question mark ‘?’

You can use a question mark to replace a single character. This is useful where you are looking for a name with a spelling variation that involves only one change of letter. For example Sm?th, will return results for both Smith and Smyth.

The asterisk ‘*’

You can use an asterisk * to represent several characters, or ‘zero’ characters. The ‘zero’ character gives you the option of looking for a character that may or not be there.

For example, where a ‘Mc’ surname may have been recorded as Mac or Mc, you can use a wildcard to find both variants. For example, M*cDonald will find both McDonald and MacDonald.

How to narrow your search

Since the object of a wildcard search is to broaden the search possibilities, you may find that sometimes it actually returns too many results.

For example, a surname search using Fo*kes will return over 5,000 results, with spelling variations that include Foakes, Fokes (*acting as a zero character), Folks, Fookes, Forkes, Foukes, Foulkes and Fowkes.

When using first name and last name wildcards, you can narrow your results further if you also enter information in one or more of the other fields. For example, entering 'London' in the Place of birth field with the surname Fo*kes will narrow the results from over 5,000 to 352. And adding 'clerk' to the Occupation field will reduce the results to just 25.

So, even if you are unsure as to how your ancestor spelled their name, but know some other facts about them, the wildcard search can greatly increase your chances of finding them. But always start with the minimum of information, because some of the ‘facts’ that you think you know about your ancestor may not reflect what is written in the census.

Multiple wildcards

Several wildcards can be used within a single name where variations in spelling occur in more than one part of the name. This allows you to search for every possible variation in spelling, where names have several derivations.

For example, the results returned for search term Bla*k*mo*r*includ the following variants: Blackmoer, Blackmoore, Blackmor, Blackmore, Blackmore Lee, Blacksmore, Blakemore and Blakmore.

Changing the search term to Bla*k*m?r* returns the following results: Blackmar, Blackmare, Blackmor, Blackmore, Blackmore Lee, Blakemare, Blakemore, Blackmur, Blacksmore and Blankmire.

Some points to remember

  • Be sure to check the button that says ‘Wildcard name’ below the forename and surname fields in order to enable the search.
  • The object of a wildcard is to broaden the search, which in some cases may yield many more results than you actually need. You can use wildcards to broaden your search where you are unsure of a name, and simultaneously make it more specific by entering data in other fields.
  • Be particularly careful in your use of wildcard * at the end of a forename or a surname, as it can return many more results than are useful to you. For example, Bryd* would locate any names beginning with Bryd, such as Brydon, Brydan, but also Brydenton, Brydall, and Brydson; while Ann* will capture Ann, Anne, Annie, Annabel and Anne-Marie. It will also return all entries with middle names such as Ann Eliza, and instances where Ann is actually the second name, such as Mary Ann.
  • Checking the ‘Wildcard name’ button below Forename(s) on the search form will initiate a wildcard search on any initials and/or characters entered in the forename field. For example, W will be treated as W* and will return variations that include W, William, Willm, Wm, William James, James William, James W, as well as all other forenames beginning with W. Be aware, however, that this may return an excessive number of results.