Showing posts with label search engine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label search engine. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

3 Tricks for Better Genealogy Search Results

When your family won't turn up, try some tricky searches.

How many times have you searched for your relative in a set of documents and found nothing? Or maybe you found a ton of results that looked like junk to you.

There's a good chance that the search results are bad because the transcription was bad. Did the volunteer transcriber have trouble reading the bad handwriting? Did they enter dramatically wrong data into the system?

Your search is doomed to fail, right? Not necessarily.

If you use partial searches, related searches and detailed searches, you may find your family.

1. Partial searches

It was common for our ancestors to have a first name and a middle name. But how were they identified on the census form? Did the person providing the information know them by their middle name only? Or by an adopted name in their new country?

Try leaving their first name out of your search completely. Fill in their age and place of birth, but use only their last name.

Try the opposite, too. I had more luck finding my grandfather on a census with only his first name of Adam. The census-taker wrote his last name in a way I hadn't expected.

Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
Simplify your search. Toss out the extras, and your results may improve.
2. Related searches

When a family is tough to find, look at the kids. The particular combination of children's names in this family can be the key to finding them.

Do a search that includes all the kids' names. Leave off the last name and let the search focus on finding those kids together.

You can also try using the husband and wife's first names only. That combination may be what does the job.

3. Detailed searches

I'm having trouble finding my great grandfather's naturalization papers. His name often causes me problems. His given name was Pasquale Iamarino, but on some documents he is Patsy Marino. Or a combination of those names.

So I searched using his exact birth date. I didn't find him. I also searched using his birth year and town of birth, but no name.

His naturalization isn't showing up yet. But, I once found his wife's brothers on ship manifests by searching for their last name and town of birth only.

Here's an example using Pasquale Iamarino. I did a general search of all categories on I entered only his last name, his town of origin and his exact year of birth.

The results were terrific. In fact, they include one new result that I never expected to find. It's the claim ID for his railroad retirement pension. I'll have to buy a copy of it from the National Archives at Atlanta (why there?), but this is brand new information.

So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
So many misspellings, but the results are all for my great grandfather.
My dad says Pasquale may have had black lung disease from years of cleaning out the furnace of coal-burning train engines. He had to retire early on disability. This pension claim may tell me a lot more about what happened to him.

Also, the Suggested Records in the right column of my results are very impressive! Despite all the spelling variations, that exact birth year seems to have done wonders for my search. All those records belong to my great grandfather.

The point is to experiment. Don't give up if the results don't look promising. All these genealogical records are a gigantic database. You may need to slice and dice that database to get past bad transcriptions and misspellings.

Give it a try the very next time you don't get the results you want. Do a partial search, add in related names, or toss out the names and plug in specific facts.

Working on your family tree is a big puzzle. Clever searches are yet another piece of the puzzle.

Don't get frustrated. Get clever.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Find Those Stubborn Genealogy Documents with Creative Searches

When you're researching your family tree and trying to find a family's missing document, what do you do?

You probably go to your favorite genealogy website and enter as much information as you know about the family. Everyone's full names, when and where they were born, and where you think they lived at the time.

But what if your search finds nothing?

Try using no last name for your search.
You could try the "less is more" approach. Go against your instincts and leave out key information. This can help you get past the census taker or the document indexer's errors.

Last night I was trying to find the 1940 census record for a particular family. I'd already found plenty of other documents for them. I had the names and approximate birth years for the parents and all the children. And I knew they lived in the Bronx.

I was sure a search for a family with these eight specific names had to get me the results I wanted. But no.

This is the time to try a creative search. Use several combinations of information until you find your document. Try searching with:
  • No last name.
  • No first name for the head of household.
  • No birth year for the head of household.
  • No place of birth for the head of household.
  • No spouse's name.
  • Fewer kids names.

When I couldn't find the Moylan family in the Bronx in 1940, I let their first names be the main search factor. I searched for them with no last name.

And it worked! I found a family with the correct first names living in the Bronx. Somehow the census taker wrote down the wife's maiden name instead of the family name. So the entire group was wrongly listed as Cunningham, and indexed as Cunningham.
Right people, wrong last name! Did Mary forget she was married? :-)

I was sure I had the right family. Yes, I knew the wife's maiden name was Cunningham. But even if I didn't, I had a match on eight first names, and everyone's age and place of birth.

This search technique won't locate all your missing documents, but keep it in mind.

Use a "less is more" search and you may find more and more of those missing genealogy treasures.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Let a Few Quick Wins Reinvigorate Your Genealogy Research

I admit it. What I'm about to share with you is common knowledge.

But common knowledge is often forgotten knowledge.

Many of us sneak in some quick family tree research time here and there, whenever we can. We're not focused on it as if it were our full-time job. (I joke, of course. Who's concentrating on their jobs?)

Our research habits may have gotten a little sloppy. Maybe we need to get back to basics.

Notice there's no last name in this search.
With that in mind, today I decided to track down some census records I simply couldn't find in the past. I used a few tried-and-true techniques and started racking up the wins. (See How To Squeeze Everything Out of the Census.)

Now I'm psyched for more! How many missing census forms can I find in one sitting? And do I really have to go to work tomorrow?

Here's what I did. You can do the same.

My maiden name is not easy for anyone to pronounce or spell, so I never expect the transcription to say "Iamarino".

No problem. Here are three techniques that helped me successfully locate a census for two Iamarino families:

  1. Do a wild card search. I tried *amarino and ?amarino to locate nearly correct spellings.
  2. Search for a family member instead. When my search for the head of household didn't work, I tried searching for his son Bernard—not as common a name as Peter.
  3. Remove the last name completely. This did the trick! I had a family of four named Peter, Marie, Joseph and Bernard. That combination, with no last name, brought up the long-missing 1940 census record. "Iamarino" had been transcribed as "Lamarine".
I found them! Cousin Bernie was the key.

I recommend looking at your family tree and starting close to yourself. Fan out until you identify a family that's missing some census years. Then go to your favorite census search engine, whether it's,, or anywhere else.

Try various combinations of the three techniques above to see if you can find that missing census form.

If you find one, you won't be able to stop. If you fail a couple of times, pick a different branch and try again.

Happy hunting!

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Case Study on "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Here's a lesson that supports my earlier post, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" I have one branch of my family where the information was pretty scant. In fact, I never knew my great grandmother's maiden name was Caruso until the eve of my first trip to Italy—the trip that sparked my interest in genealogy. Later I heard from a distant cousin named Michael who was very interested in the Caruso family tree and shared a great deal of first-hand information with me.

As with any information I receive without documentation, I set about proving all of the facts Michael had shared with me, and in doing so, I learned quite a bit more facts.

My great grandmother, Maria Rosa Caruso, had at least four older brothers, all of whom came to upstate New York in the very early 1900s. Giuseppe came here first because each of this brothers' ship manifests says they were joining their brother Giuseppe at 827-829 Canal Street, Elmira, New York.

Maria Rosa's ship manifest was the hardest to find, and even after finding it, I was not sure it was the right Maria Rosa Caruso for quite some time. The manifest has some facts that are correct for her (born in 1880 or 1881 in Pescolamazza, and coming to join her brother Giuseppe), but it also has facts that do not work.

The manifest says she was married as of July 1906, but that doesn't work because I have her November 1906 marriage certificate from Hornell, New York. It also says her final destination is Addison, New York. While that is not terribly far from Elmira, or even Cameron, New York, which is another place her brother Giuseppe lived, I have no facts putting any members of this Caruso family in Addison. There is an address beneath her brother Giuseppe's name, but it appears to say "236 Bore". I can't make anything out of that.

I kept returning to this 1906 ship manifest and finally noticed something very important. Where the manifest shows an "m" for married, in a much lighter color there is an "S" for single overwriting the "m". (See the far-right side of the image.) So it was an error.

That left me with the troubling town of Addison. But in a web search today I discovered that Addison was the end of a particular railroad line that connected with the New York Central Railroad. So there is a good possibility that Maria Rosa had her ticket from New York City to Addison and then had to get on the Erie Railroad to get to her brother. At that time, Giuseppe lived in Cameron, New York, on a street parallel to the railroad tracks where he worked. I can see a railroad line on Bing Maps that runs from Addison to Cameron. And on her marriage certificate, Maria Rosa lists her residence as Cameron.

Now I feel as if the 1906 ship manifest finally makes sense. And this illustrates how important it is to gather as many provable facts as possible about your ancestor and their entire family.