Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Searching in CensusRecords.com - Post 2: Wild Cards

I described the basic search features iFirst Look at CensusRecords.com Results - Post 1: Searches and Transcriptions, and the limitations found on the transcriptions.

In this post, I'm going to go explore some of the Wild Card search features and results.

1)  Starting with only the 1840 U.S. Census, I entered a last name = "seaver" and saw:

There were 173 matches for the last name of "seaver" (exact spelling) in the 1840 census.

2)  I added a wild card in the last name = "sea*r":

There were 287 matches for that spelling.  The matches received looked like they matched the search request.

3)  I changed the last name = "?ea*r" and saw:

Now there are 5,803 matches.  I didn't look at all of these, but the pages I looked at the results matched the search field.

4)  I added a wild card at the end to make the last name = "?sea*r*":

Now I have 17,258 matches, and the limited number of pages I looked at matched the search field request.

5)  I added the first name = "john" to the above search request and saw:

Uh oh.  It says that there are no persons named "John ?ea*r*" in the 1840 census.  I know that's not right.  I worked for about ten minutes starting over and doing the sequence above again and again.  It found results once out of five tries.  I don't know what it's doing, or why, but it's doing it.

6)  I went back to the Home Page, and started a search again in the 1840 census with first name = "robert" and last name = "seaver":

Again, it failed, but I know that there is a Robert Seaver or two in the database in 1840.

7)  I logged out, then logged in, and tried the last name = "seaver" search again:

There is a "Robert Seaver" listed as the third one down on the list.

I don't know why the search engine is not finding what I request in the search field.  It may have to do with specifying the 1840 census specifically.  However, that's how I usually search - one census year at a time.

I wondered about searching with fewer than three letters in the surname (no first name).  That worked:

*  With a last name = 's*r*" I got 105,191 matches
*  With a last name = "s*" I got 256,384 matches
*  With a last name = "*r*" I got 1,230,848 matches (it took several seconds, but it did it!

This appears to be the most powerful last name search engine available.  However, it is useless without a first name search capability in a specific census to go along with it.

I hope that other researchers, and the CensusRecords.com team, can duplicate my search problem with the first name as demonstrated above (and not just once here in the Genea-Cave!).  I will be discussing this with them, I hope, at RootsTech 2012.

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