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October 27, 2004

Using Search Engines to Find Ancestors

© Lorine McGinnis Schulze

First posted in response to a question on a mailing list on October 23, 2004

Q: I have been on the temp free list for I did a search under Richard W. BILKEY and soundexed it. It came "Zero Results" Are you saying there is another index I can look under

A: When using search engines, don't limit your searches too much. If you get zero results, widen the search parameters.
  • First tip - Use wildcards to allow for alternate spellings. Instead of BILKEY, try BIL* (the * is a wildcard for any letters after BIL)

    Don't put in the first name. Don't put in middle initials. Think about how the name might have been spoken and recorded at the time. Richard W. Bilkey might have said his name was R. Bilkey. Perhaps he gave his full first name but not his middle initial. Maybe the person recording it put Rich'd for Richard. Maybe the person writing it down spelled BILKEY as Bilkee or Beelkey or ....

    Be creative, try variant spellings and use wildcards.

  • Second tip - for this particular search below, you want to go to and try the spellings and wildcard feature above. Then to see a list of ships from Liverpool to New York in April 1865 follow these steps:

    1. On the Ancestry search box, DON'T put a first or last name. Put the year of arrival as 1865 to 1865.

    2. In the keyword field put apr . Only put 3 letters because if you look at results you get you will see that this is how all the months are indexed - as 3 letter months. So if you put april you'll get zero results!

    3. For Port of departure put Liverpool.

    4. Then hit SEARCH and see what comes up. You'll get a lot of results and you can see that there are many ships - Etna, Kangaroo, Helvetia and so on

    There is another way to get that list of ships -- look up at the top of the Ancestry page where it says

    "You are here: Search > Immigration & Naturalization Records > New York Passenger Lists, 1851-1891 > Results"

    Click on NEW YORK PASSENGER LISTS. That brings up a new page with a search box but look BELOW that search box. See the list of years? Click on 1865. Let the new page load then click on the month you want (April)

    The list of ships arriving in April will appear

  • Third Tip -- Always read the HELP file for every Search Engine you use. All Search Engines are different, you must learn what each can do for you.

    Also see more of my ideas and suggestions re using search engines

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Help File by Lorine McGinnis Schulze of Olive Tree Genealogy at