Online Indexing Errors and How to Work Around Them, Part 2

As discussed in last week's post, the online databases and indexes, as helpful as they are, can be fraught with errors which would lead you to believe a record doesn't exist

The trick is trying as much as you can to fool the systems into showing you every possibility.

Some common issues for search failures can be:

  • The name is recorded with a different spelling
  • Misleading or incomplete databases
  • Looking in the wrong jurisdiction
  • Frequent letter substitutions
  • Typo - example Joesph not Joseph
  • First, Middle, and Last name reversed or jumbled
  • Name sounds - example Auto for Otto (It really happened!)
  • Nicknames - example Polly = Mary (there are online listing of common nicknames)
  • Document only contained initials

So how to get around these and other issues?  It's time to get creative with your search techniques!

  • Try searching by the surname or first name only
  • Use wildcards ? or * in your searches (? for each letter, and * for multiple unknowns up to 6 characters)
  • look in multiple online resources as the search tools vary
  • look in specific record databases instead of searching the entire online tool

If you still dont find what you're looking for, go back in a couple months and try again.  These online databases are continually growing.

Here's a good example.

The family lore said William Chamberlain Pervear, married Lydia Prickett and took her and her son Charles Fletcher to New Orleans after the birth of their daughter Bertha in Philadelphia around 1876.  I spent years searching New Orleans without success.  Only after realizing I was failing for two major reasons

  • the name was recorded incorrectly
  • they weren't "in" New Orleans

I searched by first names of Lydia and Bertha only in all of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, and I found it!

Screen Shot 2018-06-23 at 1.54.32 PM

And there they were in the 1880 Federal Census in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, less than 60 miles from New Orleans!  However that wasn't the only issue.  The census enumerator either didn't understand their last name, or just plain misspelled it, but recorded their surname as Pervion instead of Pervear.  Not even even close phonetically. And if you look closely, Lydia's son was recorded as Fletcher Pervion.  They used his last name as his first.

So don't give up on your first failed search!  Most of the records are there, or will be there eventually.  Just keep trying and most of all, keep trying in every possible different way you can think of.  Be flexible, and most of all, don't give up!