Using the right search techniques can save you a good deal of time. Once you have done any amount of research you will see there are various spellings for given names and surnames. Then there can even be differences in spelling of certain hometowns. Of course trying to figure dates for births-marriages and death can be quite challenging.
So by using the symbol for a ‘wildcard’ in a search, you can find all the possibilities. The wildcard is a placeholder for any sequence of characters or words in a search. Any type of search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ancestry.com, Rootsweb, Genforum, National Archives, etc.) accepts this wildcard symbol * - the star key or asterisk. Using this symbol when you are not sure of a given name’s spelling can have the search engine find all the possibilities, even those you didn’t think of.
Say an ancestor’s given name was Mamie, but you didn’t know this for sure. You believed it was Mary. Putting in the keyword Ma*m*y or Ma*y* with a couple of the asterisks will give you all the variations from Mary, Marie, Marry, Maria, Marianne, Marian to Mamie.
Note two asterisks were used. If the name is longer a third one could be used where you were uncertain. Just don’t place the asterisk at the beginning, that is too broad a search.
If you are unsure of just one letter in a spelling then the symbol ? can be used representing only one indeterminate letter.
When looking for hometown, say the town’s full name was ‘Port Saint Lucie’ but all you know was Port Lucie. Place that asterisk in the middle to see if there is another name with it; ‘Port * Lucie’, so it can be used even for a word missing in a phrase or name. It is especially handy for middle names. You only know your great uncle by ‘Joe Martin’ but by using ‘Joe * Martin’ plus the state or hometown you should be able to narrow down the search.
For dates place a plus/minus symbols and a number representing the number additional range of years. This would be 1864 +/-3 in the search box along with a surname or an ancestor’s name.
Search engines and databases’ search engines do vary, with some allowing multiple use of the asterisk in a name or keyword and others allow one asterisk. Experiment, the search box will let you know what it will accept.