Wildcard your county public record searches

Few counties in California have vital records indexes online. To search for a birth, death or marriage you have to go to the county Recorder where the document was filed. Counties have each of these indexes in various formats: books, microfilm, microfiche and computer. This tip applies to the computer searches.

I previously mentioned online government public record indexes at PIbuzz that you can search using various wildcard symbols with partial company or personal names.

Some databases won’t return results if you enter a partial first or last name or if you only enter one or the other. But sometimes you may want to do a less restricted search of a marriage index. For example, you may know the first name of the bride and want to find all men who married a woman with that first name. Or you only have the last name for the groom and you want to find all records, without having to enter a first name. I’ve faced this situation when I’m doing genealogical searches for pension beneficiaries, heirs in probate cases or just trying to find someone or update their name. Sometimes my information is so dated that there’s no link between that and and the content in proprietary databases — such as those that have credit headers, historical phone listings and court records.

Try this next time you’re searching the birth, death or marriage index at the county Recorder’s onsite computer. Enter the first or last name in the designated field and put two percentage symbols (%%) in the other field. I tried this recently at the San Mateo County Recorder and it worked perfectly.

Do you have a tip for wildcard searching public records?

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