|This article originally appeared in The Official Guide to RootsWeb.com by Myra Vanderpool Gormley, CG and Tana Pedersen Lord.|
You’ll find that most searches you do on RootsWeb are done within a specific database or feature. Each search engine works a little bit differently, and you may get different results, depending on how you use them. To utilize RootsWeb to its fullest and for successful genealogical research, investigate and utilize each one of these search engines. This section explains two ways in which you can search RootsWeb in general.
Search Thingy (found on the Searches tab) is a rather silly name for an older, site-wide search engine for various Web pages housed at RootsWeb. Unfortunately, the search engine hasn’t been updated regularly, so the results you’ll get won’t include information that has been entered recently. If you do want to try out Search Thingy, try searching for keywords in addition to the usual name searches—localities where your ancestors resided, or a topic of interest, such as passenger lists, epidemics, or outlaws.
Another option you can use to get similar but better results is to utilize the popular Google search engine. You can find information that might be buried at RootsWeb by entering an ancestor’s name, locality or subject, and the term “rootsweb”:
- given name surname +rootsweb
- surname +locality +rootsweb
- surname +keyword +rootsweb
And because Web pages and various databases are fluid—constantly being changed, added to, or taken down—periodic searches should be conducted for best results.
The Meta Search is available from the Searches tab and also from the homepage under the “Search Engines and Databases” section. This search engine lets you search multiple databases from one central location, including WorldConnect, the SSDI, the RootsWeb Surname List (RSL), vital records, and other databases containing information from sources like newspapers and obituaries.
Keep in mind, you can only search by surname, given name, or keyword.
General Search Tips
As you start searching through databases, keep some of these general search tips in mind:
- Given Names. Try alternate spellings and abbreviations for your ancestor’s given name(s). Sometimes only an initial or abbreviation is used, such as Chas. for Charles, Thos. for Thomas, and Wm. for William. Also look for variations and different spellings—Eliza, Beth, Liz, or Liza, for Elizabeth; Alex for Alexander; Jim for James; Jon for John.
- Surnames (family names). Many of your searches at RootsWeb (and elsewhere) will be by surnames, but make sure you search for spelling variations for all names. You may find your great-grandpa John Kelly listed as Kelley, Killey, Kelle, or O’Kelly. Just because the name is not spelled exactly as you have come to know or use it, does not mean there was a name change or that the Kelly and Kelle families are not related. Most of our surnames have undergone some spelling changes through the centuries. If you are looking for an immigrant ancestor, look for his or her name as it would be in his or her native language.
- Soundex. Some of the databases at RootsWeb let you use Soundex searches. Soundex allows you to search for last names that “sound like” the one you’re looking for. This can be useful because record keepers may have made spelling errors, or created “Americanized” versions of foreign names. Try out Soundex even if you think the spelling is obvious. Remember, even Smith can be “misspelled” (e.g., Smithe, Smyth, Smythe).
- Date Ranges. If you are searching for an ancestor who has a common name, a great way to narrow your search is to use date ranges. You’ll get fewer search results and find it much easier to uncover that ancestor. Be careful though, some databases only match search results exactly. If you include too much information, you may miss the individual you’re looking for. You might try only specifying a month and a year instead of the full date.
- Wildcards. Wildcards (such as the asterisk “*” and the question mark “?”) are used in searches to replace a certain number of characters in a search term. Use the asterisk wildcard to view all words that begin with the same stem—up to six characters. For example, a search for “fran*” will return matches such as Fran, Franny, Frank, Frannie, and Frankie. Use a question mark for a single character. For example, a search for “Hans?n” will return matches such as Hansen and Hanson.
Ready to start digging up your past? Let’s start by exploring how you can do this using the WorldConnect family trees at RootsWeb.