This post will help introduce some of the new features of Findmypast's search.

Findmypast’s new search tool provides a flexible way to search across multiple record sets. You can search our entire collection using any field, and then narrow your search down to pinpoint the person you’re looking for. You can search using as many or as few fields as you like, and we always recommend starting broad then narrowing your search down.

Once you’ve started searching, you can always click the “edit your search” button to return to the previous search page with your information pre-filled, so you can adjust your search quickly and easily. Our broader categories can be searched by general fields common to every record set in that category (first and last names for example). If you then look at more specific search pages you will find more fields that relate to that particular record set.

How to search

There are three main ways to search our records. You will find more information on all of these in the paragraphs below.

The first is to search all records. This is a very broad search, and will find everyone in all of our records who fulfill the criteria you’ve entered.

Alternatively, if you have an idea of what sort of records you want to search, you can start your search within a record category. This could be census, land and surveys; birth, marriage, death & parish records; travel and migration records, etc.

Or, if you know the exact record set you want to search, you can head straight there. For example, if you want to search for an ancestor in the 1911 census, or you are looking for a soldier in the British Royal Air Force, Officers' Service Records 1912-1920, you can search for that exact record set in our A-Z of record sets.

Search all records

The search fields on the homepage provide the broadest possible search. When you enter a name and/or date in these fields, we search our entire database for anyone matching those details (or variants - untick the variants box to see only exact matches). You can enter a middle name into the ‘name’ box to get more precise results. Once you’ve clicked ‘search’, you’ll be presented with a list of matches. You can then narrow this list down, by applying various filters.

Search record categories

If you know what sort of records you want to search, you can start your search within a record category. This could be census, land and surveys; birth, marriage, death & parish records; travel and migration records, etc. You can find a list of these record categories by clicking on ‘Search records’ in the top navigation of the homepage. Either choose one of the categories from the dropdown menu, or choose ‘Search all records’.

Once you’ve chosen a record category, you can search every record within that category in one go. Alternatively you can make your search more specific by choosing a collection within the category; either by clicking on the dropdown under ‘All collections’, or by typing in a few of the first letters of the collection’s name in the ‘record collection’ field.

You can also jump straight to specific record sets by typing the name of the set into the ’record set’ field. If you choose to search within a collection, you’ll find that the search form is tailored to the results. So, for example, in Merchant Navy collection, you can search by vessel name, while in births and baptisms you can search by mother’s maiden name.

Search record sets

If you know the exact record set you want to search, you can simply start there. Go to ‘Search records’ in the top navigation, and choose ‘A-Z of record sets’. Alternatively, click the ‘A-Z of record sets’ button on the top right of any search screen. You’ll now see a long list of every one of our record sets ordered alphabetically. You can search for the set you’re looking for by typing in a few letters of the name in the search bar. This is the quickest way to find a specific record set.

How do fields work?

When you enter a name and/or date in the search fields in the homepage, we search our entire database for anyone matching those details. When you go to a more specific search screens (record categories, collections or sets) you’ll see the search forms become increasingly specific.

Fields only appear when they are relevant. That is, when the information you are searching for would have appeared in the original document. For example, if you select the record set ‘Dorset marriages’ you’ll be able to enter the spouse’s first and last names. This is because these fields will have been entered in the original certificate (and the transcript).

However, if you are looking for a burial, you can’t enter the spouse’s name, even if you know it. This is because that information was not included in the original document. If you feel there is a search field missing, you can use a keyword to find any word which has been transcribed.

Keywords

 In category pages (and some individual search screens), you can search records by keywords. Keywords work by identifying records that have that particular word in their transcripts. For example, you could search for the name ‘Smith’ in the birth, marriages, deaths and parish records, then use the keyword ‘Glasgow’, to find all the Smiths who were somehow associated with Glasgow in their records.

Or try typing "murder" in the keywords box on the prison registers collection, to find all those involved in any recorded murder cases. You can use keywords to search for any fields that aren’t displayed in our forms (for example, when searching an address you can enter the house number to narrow down your results).

Wildcards

Wildcards (which indicate that a fragment of your search term is missing) can do much of the work for you. You can use them across many of our records to help find those that may have been mistranscribed or where spellings may have altered through a mishearing of a name or poor literacy.

When these records were originally made, literacy levels were poor, and spellings had a tendency to be a little more liberal. You can use a star ‘*’ in a search field where you suspect there may be an alternative spelling. This will pick up places where a letter may be missing, repeated, or incorrect.

For example, a surname search for Fo*kes will return results with spelling variations that include Foakes, Fokes (*acting as a zero character), Folks, Fookes, Forkes, Foukes, Foulkes and Fowkes. If you are sure that there is only one incorrect letter, you can use the ? symbol. For example Sm?th, will return results for both Smith and Smyth.

You can use as many wildcards as you need to in a search field, so the results returned for search term Bla*k*mo*r*include the following variants: Blackmoer, Blackmoore, Blackmor, Blackmore, Blackmore Lee, Blacksmore, Blakemore and Blakmore.

You can also use wildcards when searching for regiments (* Som Yeo* would yield North Somerset Yeomanry, as well as West Somerset Yeomanry), service numbers etc.

Searching census returns by address

When searching for an address using a census search page, you can search by location. Simply enter a street name into the address field and then click on the suggestion that matches. Make sure you also enter the town to make sure you only pick up the particular location you are interested in - you’d be surprised how many Main Streets exist around the country!

The results will show a list of all the occupants at a particular address, and you can use the previous and next buttons in the image viewer to move back and forth through the census. This makes it easy to see neighbours and understand more about the location you are exploring.

You can find more help and advice on our help pages.