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Posted: July 14, 2012 6:29 p.m.

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Blakeslee: How to start your search

Are you having trouble getting the information you need out of your database search? Here are some tips on searching Internet databases:

•Know what your searching: Learn on the homepage what the database has to offer you. All databases available on the Internet have a homepage and explains thoroughly what it has to offer you. Read what you are searching before just going in and randomly searching. You can become overwhelmed and frustrated if you don't take your Internet searches slowly. Searching multiple databases at one time can bring you too many results that you have to sift through. The best policy is to know exactly what you want to search and search that database specifically.

•Are you searching censuses, passenger lists, indexes or property? Make sure the database covers the area you need before searching.

•Focus on young children if you can: Children seem to be more accurate in the databases. Adults, even in the late 1800s, do not give accurate information especially in the census.

•Don't be in a hurry when searching: A good number of the databases allow flexibility. Wild cards and partial names for example.

•Wildcards: Usually it is an asterisk (*). For example, you have the name Robert Glasgow. To search using a wildcard would be Robert Glas*. The results would be Glass, glasgow, anybody in the database starting with Glas... etc. Also if you want to find the exact phrase or name, enclose it with quotation marks. A question mark (?) also works like an asterisk (*). Sometimes the database will inform you of what wildcards can be used in their particular database.

•Indexes: When you get search results and it includes an index, make sure you also check the original. The index is only as good as the data operator. For example, a L could be taken for a T. Also, there is more information on the original than the index. Don't miss out on important information by not looking at the original document.

•Have you ever searched the census and said, what does that say? You just can't read the shorthand of early census takers. They used some obvious shorthand, like jno = john. Does that make sense? Thos = Thomas. After 30 years of reading the censuses, I am still learning.

•Historical Newspapers: lets you search but uses OCR (optical character recognition). Example, type a keyword like Robert Glasgow, and it looks for Robert and Glasgow which, of course, is going to bring up thousands of unnecessary information and is very unreliable. If you search twice it will bring up different information each time. If you are looking for a death notice, use the date and then search within. Try putting the whole name in quotes "robert glasgow" and hopefully it will bring up only the Robert Glasgow's' you need. The Newton County Library has access to historical newspapers on microfilm in their Heritage Room.

•Expand your search area: Do not limit your geographical area when searching. Even tho automobiles were not in the picture in our ancestor's time, it is not uncommon for relatives to attend church 20 miles away. Meeting someone (spouse) 2-3 counties away happened. Remember, early settlements were small and ministers served several congregations around the different counties. The records for the church for many counties may be found all together.

•Last tip: When searching digital databases ignore the surname. That's right, ignore the surname. Scanning given names and other criteria in search forms results in success. Sometimes the surname is illegible, oddly spelled or incorrectly indexed. You can sometimes even find married daughters, remarried widows, etc..

Ellen Blakeslee is a professional genealogist living in Covington. You can email her at with any questions or concerns.

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