Search Guide

In this search guide you will learn the best way to search the wonderful collection of records available on findmypast. We are continually working on refining the search technology to ensure you get the most relevant results and will update this guide as it develops.

Types of Data records fall into two basic categories - transcriptions and PDF documents.

While transcription records are visible in the left hand side refinement column, PDF documents are displayed under the heading "Documents". To refine your search to include PDF documents, first click onto "Documents" in the desired category then select the required dataset you wish to search.

Types of searches:


Exact searches will return results that match the exact spelling that you entered into the First Name /Last Name search field.

  • If you type the last name "Smith" you will only get results that match "Smith." The results will not include spelling variations or misspellings.


Wildcard searches will return results when you may be unsure of the spelling or there may be known variances in the name. The asterisk (*) matches any number of characters and question mark (?) matches a single character, for example:

  • Sm?th should match Smith and Smyth
  • Smith* should match Smith and Smithson
  • *Smith should match Smith and Goldsmith


Name variant broadens searches by using common synonyms for certain names such that:

  • Elizabeth will match to Lizzie, Bessie, Elisabeth
  • Margaret will match to Peggie

This is useful as name variants are often recorded in official documents. The list of synonyms used by is called NameX. There are synonyms for both forenames and surnames. The synonyms result from academic research and are particularly good for anglo-saxon names.


Fuzzy search uses an algorithm based on the number of differences between the input and any particular result. A ranking score is created based on the number of different characters. The advantage of using fuzzy searches is that transcription errors can be revealed, for example:

  • Elizabeth will match to Xlisabeth
  • But also Clare will match to Clarke

Search fields explained

Quite simply, there are three fields to input your search criteria:

  • First Name - enter the first name (Christian name) of the person you are looking for
  • Last Name - the last name (surname) of the person you are looking for
  • Keyword - keyword search will both transcriptions & documents

Name variant box

  • Un-ticked box - when the name variants box is un-ticked, exact searches will be undertaken. Wildcard matches are also supported.
  • Ticked box - when the name variants box is ticked a name variant search is undertaken. Currently the results are returned in the following order: 1. Exact matches 2. Fuzzy matches 3. Fuzzy on NameX variants

Top Tips

To help with searches remember these top tips – you will get a lot more positive results:

  • Remember that a person may be recorded just using initials in some records so search omitting the first name or use just the first letter
  • Try just entering a last name only, then refine your results further by state, year etc.
  • Wildcard searches will match name variances when the spelling may not be known
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Have questions? Contact our friendly customer support team who are happy to answer any questions you may have. (Please note that does not undertake paid family history research and is unable to perform searches on your behalf.)