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Friday, November 6, 2009

Using Wildcards to Find an Ancestor in Online Search Engines

Peter's Question:
I am the archivist at Marlborough School in Los Angeles. For some research I am doing, I am interested in an 1874 and an 1875 passenger list.

Mary Deering sailed from Quebec to Londonderry (Liverpool) aboard the Sarmatian on June 24 (?) of 1874. Mary Deering returned to Quebec in June of 1875; however I do not know the name of the ship; I do know that the return voyage was several days (June 5, 1875?) after the Vicksburg was hit by icebergs, so I suspect that the date was early June in 1975. [sic]

I have searched the internet, but cannot find a passenger list for the June 1874 Sarmatian nor for the June 1875 return date above. I am interested in receiving a copy of passenger lists for both.

Mary Deering was not an immigrant; she was an American citizen from Maine. Thanks for any help or suggestions you can provide.

Olive Tree Answer: Dear Peter, You have not said how you know that Mary Deering was on board a ship named Sarmation which sailed in June 1874. I would advise against looking for a ship with that name and sailing on that date unless you have absolute proof. Even if you have something like a diary that Mary wrote, it would not be absolute proof, as people mix up ship names or get dates wrong. If you have something written long after the event, remember that memories are often hazy. If someone other than Mary provided the details, then you are getting even further from a reliable source.

In any case, I had a quick look in Canadian Passenger Lists on Ancestry.com and I see that there is a Miss Deering arriving in Quebec on 8 June 1875 on board the Nova Scotian. This passenger was born ca 1851 but since you did not provide a date of birth for your Mary Deering, I've no way of knowing if this is a possibility.

In any case I suggest you search for your Miss Deering using wildcards to allow for deviant spellings and without a first name. Use other facts such as her age, year of arrival and so on. Ancestry, for example, allows the use of a wildcard (*) after the first 3 letters of a name. That wildcard will replace up to 5 following letters.

It also allows the use of a wildcard (?) to replace one specific letter, so searching for DE?RING would bring up Deering and Dearing.

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