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Ask Ancestry Anne: Search Tip #11 - Name Filters

Search Tips 1 - 10 Have all been about where to search for information.  Let’s change our tactics a little bit and examine ways to improve your searching when you’ve found a place to search.


If you are on Ancestry.com, make use of name filters when you do a search.  We have over 10 Billion records and making sure you narrow your search results down to a reasonable amount, is probably a good idea.

First you will need to be on advanced search.  (IMHO, you should always use advanced search.)  It’s in the upper right corner of the search form.

Underneath the name boxes on the form, you’ll see “Use Default Settings” which loosely translates into anything close or in the case of first names, if everything else matches, this doesn’t have to.  If that is what you are after, leave it.

First Name Filters

If you click on link under First & Middle Name(s) you will be presented with a list of options:

You can choose a variety of options here. 

  • Restrict to exact : returns only records with what you’ve typed in.  Be sure you are asking for what you want.
  • Phonetic : if it sounds the same or close, we will return it.  Catherine and Katherine.
  • Similar meanings : William, Will, Bill, Billy and Wm all stand for some sort of William.  This matches them all.
  • Initials : For those pesky records where the record keeper decided an initial was just enough.

Last Name Filters

Last name filters have similar options:

  • Restrict to exact : returns only records with what you’ve typed in.  Be sure you are asking for what you want.
  • Soundex: This is really in here for historical reasons.  It is a algorithm used to compress last names to a series of similar sounds.  For more, you can read the Soundex entry on Wikipedia
  • Phonetic : if it sounds the same or close, we will return it. Smyth and Smith
  • Similar meanings : Schmidt and Smith

Next Hint: Search #12 :  Location Filters or review Search Tip #10 : It’s A Big Web

Happy Searching!

Ancestry Anne

  1. ancestry-stickynotes posted this