Guide

General Information

Most genealogy databases you encounter on other websites can be searched by specifying surname, given name, town, etc. and will return individual records that match your specifications. You can imagine that those websites have a large spreadsheet with separate columns for surname, given name, town, etc. and each record is one row of the spreadsheet. That is not how this website works. Our data is not structured that way.

Imagine, instead, that for each of our 4,000+ sources, we have a large text file containing all of its words. The words are not identified as being surnames, given names, towns, etc., and the fact that certain words pertain to the same person is also not indicated. They are just the sequence of words appearing in the original source. When you search here, you are are searching all of the words. Instead of a "record" being a row of a spreadsheet with information about a single person, here it is a page from one of these text files containing the words you searched for and others. When you search here, we tell you which sources matched and on which pages the matches occurred, and we show you the surrounding text and provide links to see scanned images of the matching pages from the original source. When you look at the scanned images, you can find the words you searched for and see the context in which they appear.

The reason for this difference is that we do not have volunteers transcribing the sources to produce spreadsheet-like databases. Instead, we use software to "examine" the images of the sources and produce corresponding text files, through a process called Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR is not 100% accurate (but neither are human volunteers).

Searching for People by Name

The most common use of the search engine is to find people with a specific surname or surname + given name. We recommend beginning with a simple search where you enter the surname in the search box, keep all the default options, and press the Search button.

If there are not many matches (e.g., for an uncommon surname), it might be practical to examine every match. If there are too many matches, narrowing the search geographically might reduce the number of matches sufficiently. However, if there are still too many matches and you are looking for a surname + given name combination, there is more you can do.

You can search for the given name and the surname appearing next to each other by enclosing them in double quotes, like this: "jozef pytel". However, in some sources, given names appear after surnames, which you can find like this: "pytel jozef". Or, you can use the proximity search syntax to accept either order and also allow for a few words in between, in case Jozef Pytel's full name was Jozef Henryk Pytel, like this: "jozef pytel"~3.

In some sources, there might not be a given name, but instead a first initial or abbreviated given name. So, you might also want to try searching for "j pytel"~3 or for "joz* pytel"~3, or combining both into "j pytel"~3 | "joz* pytel"~3 using the boolean OR syntax.

Too many matches isn't the only problem you can have. The fact that OCR isn't 100% accurate can prevent you from finding matches. Kleinwaks might be misinterpreted by the OCR software as Klcinwaks, because "e" and "c" look alike. To find matches despite OCR errors, you can try several strategies: change the Regular Match search option to OCR-Adjusted; for long search terms, use the wildcard * in place of several letters at the beginning or end; or browse the list of words from all the sources.

If you are interested in spelling variations for the same surname, such as Kleinwachs for Kleinwaks, you should separately perform a soundex search by changing the Regular Match search option to D-M Soundex.

Searching for People by Name + Town

Restricting a search to a specific town can be difficult because many of our sources cover large geographic areas with numerous towns (e.g., a business directory for all of Poland) and are not organized by town (e.g., if the first level of organization is type of business).

There is a search option to restrict searches geographically, defaulting to Any Place, but generally only large towns, cities, or sub-national regions are available to choose from. When using this option, searches will be restricted to sources covering the chosen geographic scope or smaller. For example, if you select Galicia, sources with a scope of Galicia or with a scope of Krakow will be included, but sources covering all of Poland, all of Ukraine, all of Austria-Hungary, or all of Europe will not be included.

For small towns, you can try including both the surname and the town name in your search, with the implicit Boolean AND, like this: bornfeld rohatyn. This will find pages on which both words appear, but there is no guarantee they will be in close proximity on the page or related in any way. This might be successful if the matching page contains information about only one town or a few towns, but some sources can have information about dozens of towns per page. You can try forcing the surname and town to be in closer proximity, like "bornfeld rohatyn"~20, but keep in mind that the town might appear in a section heading far away from the surname or even on a prior page. There is no perfect solution.

Searching for People by Address

Searching for everyone who lived at a particular street address can be a very powerful genealogical research tool, especially if you are trying to find relatives of someone about whom you know very little other than a street address. You might learn the street address as a result of searching by surname or from a document you saw/acquired elsewhere. Searching by street address is at its heart nothing more than a phrase search, like this: "zamarstynowska 51". However, there are a few subtleties.

In some places, street names changed over time. So, you might need to search for multiple addresses refering to the same place. The change could be due to (re)construction after a war, change in administrative language, etc. To find historical street names and maps, you should look elsewhere (including a simple Google search).

Street names often include a part that is frequently abbreviated or separated from the rest of the name, like Paradiesgasse appearing as Paradiesg. or Paradies Gasse. You might need to perform multiple searches to account for these possibilities, which are language-dependent.

Keep in mind that street addresses do not appear in all sources and often do not appear for small towns or villages. Early sources might also use a different identification scheme that preceded street addresses, such as house numbers.

Advanced Syntax

Phrase

"zamarstynowska 51"
great for searching by street address
can also be used to disable matching of suffix variations: "pikus" will not match pikusowa

Wildcard

kleinw*, *nwaks, *leinw*, "zamarst* 51", келт*
helps to find long words despite OCR errors
only works with Regular Match (details)

OR

danzig | gdansk

AND

bornfeld rohatyn
only guarantees the words appear on the same page, not necessarily in close proximity

NOT

lichtbach -"lichtbach moritz"

Complex Boolean expression

paradies -paradiesg* -"paradies gas*" (danzig | gdansk)
searching for surname paradies, not street name paradiesgasse, in Danzig/Gdansk

Proximity

"rabbi deiches"~4
change the number to allow more or fewer words in between
order of matched words is irrelevant, so can be used to find surname and given name in either order

Force letters in soundex

[s]chlim[p]er

Search arbitrary group of sources

katz {d82,y17,d3000+}
IDs in {} found in Collections at top left and in "About this source" links in search results
d3000+ means d3000, d3001, d3002, etc.

Search arbitrary date range

kalter {1903-1923}