Searching with Wildcards in FamilySearch

April 10, 2014  - by 

The Search features in are very powerful. One that is especially powerful is the ability to use Search with a character known as a wildcard.





Wildcards enable you to replace characters using wildcard characters. The wildcard characters are an asterisk (*) for multiple characters or a question mark (?) for a single character. Wildcards are useful when you can spell a surname or given name in multiple ways, for example, Thurgood or Thoroughgood. You can use up to four asterisks at a time for any surname or given name. You may also use multiple single character wildcards in a given name or surname. Note: To use a wildcard symbol in your search, in most cases, you must use at least 3 letters of the surname or given name. Here are some examples of how you can use wildcard characters:

Examples of using the single character wildcard question mark (?):

To see variations of Smith, replace Smith with Sm?th. FamilySearch will return Smeth, Smith, or even Smythe.

To see variations of Hansen, replace Hansen with Hans?n to get Hansen or Hanson. You can even try H?ns?n to get Hanson or Hansen, Hinsen or Hinson, Henson or Hensen.

Examples of using the multiple character wildcard asterisk (*):

To see variations of Tillitson, replace Tillitson with T*l*ts* to get Tillotson or Tilotson.

To see variations of Thibou, replace Thibou with Th*b* or T*b*u*. This way you can locate as many spelling variations as possible.

For unusually difficult surnames, wildcards are important when you are unsure of the spelling of the prefix of the name. You can put a wildcard (*) at the beginning of the name.  For example, for the surname Thibou, type *bou.   If you are unsure of the ending of a name, use the wildcard (*) at end such as Thib*. Then to narrow the search, enter a locality or date range. Wildcards are especially useful for European, Slavic, Native American, southern U.S., and other surnames.   Example:

















 This article was written and submitted by Phil Dunn and Susan Burleson.

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  1. Yes, very good advice. One example of where to use it is when an ‘s’ is found in a surname. I was shocked to see just how many transcribers are mistaking an ‘s’ for an ‘f’ in recording a name found in older parish registers. For example, the surname Greengrass is recorded by indexers as Greengrafs on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, this is one example which could be easily overlooked unless one had previous experience of this commom pitfall. Would many patrons think it necessary to try Greengra*s in their search otherwise?

    So it seems good advice to try out wildcards anywhere and everywhere!

    1. Sorry – I should have written Greengra?s in the example above. (? for one character, * for maultiple characters, as Steve explains.)

      1. Sorry for the typo – one fault with this medium is that you cannot edit text / correct spelling mistakes, as in GetSatisfaction!

  2. Now I see my comments again! “Awaiting moderation”, apparently. For those unfamiliar with how the Blog works, this “now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t-now-you-see-them-again” is very confusing. I posted comments yesterday – just how long does the moderation process take?

  3. Besides * and ? are there any other special operators to represent things like NOT, AND, OR, ONLY, Vowels, Consonants, Blank/Empty field, use of single or double quotes, etc?