Take a minute to read a site’s search instructions. They reveal tricks such as omitting a given name or including wildcards. In Ancestry.coms Exact Matches census searches, for instance, a * after three or more letters of a name represents up to six characters.
Use Boolean operators such as + and – to focus search-engine queries: tom + clancy -hunt would help weed out results for the author of The Hunt for Red October, who doesnt happen to be your great-uncle Tom.
Use search engines to find information on a particular Web site. So to locate FamilyTreeMagazine.coms advice on researching riverboat passengers, you could go to Google and type in riverboat site:familytreemagazine.com. (Note this technique wont find people in online databasesbut see our next tip.) PS: The riverboat advice is on our Now What blog.
Database searches call up your ancestors record only if an indexer entered the same information youre searching onso try different approaches. Start by entering all you know about the person. If you dont get results, search with fewer terms and combinations of terms (such as the persons name and residence, or his name and birthplace).
Seek alternate name spellings. Check the search tips to see whether a search automatically looks for similar names. Even if it does, try odd spellings: A census taker or an indexer mightve interpreted the name so outlandishly that a sounds like search wouldnt pick up on it.
On Web sites with multiple databases, search individual databases one at a time. Those customized search engines often include fields you wont get with the sites global search.