Given Name(s) Last Name

From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 4/4/2000

Get Wild! Using % and _ at the BLM Site

This site has always been an excellent source for genealogists. Since the recent debut of a new and improved interface, family historians can make more use of the site and potentially locate ancestors who obtained federal lands, whether through military warrants or outright purchase. One particularly nice feature of this site is the ability to perform wildcard searches. These searches can greatly improve the chance you locate your ancestor in the index (assuming he or she is actually there).

Wildcard Searches
Misspellings and difficult-to-read handwriting can create challenges in the use of computerized indexes. One way around this problem is to use wildcard searches. There are two types of wildcards supported on the BLM site, the percent symbol (%) and the underscore (_ )

The Percent Symbol (%)
When searching with this symbol, any number of letters can be used in place of the percent sign, including no letters. If I want to perform a combined search for the surnames Rampley and Ramply using the wildcards, I enter Rampl%y as my search term. This way I'll get Ramply (where nothing is used in place of the wildcard) and Rampley (where the "e" is used in place of the wildcard).

A search for tr%t%etter under the patentee surname resulted in matches for the surnames of Trautfetter and Troutfetter, including a new (to me) patent in Colorado for a distant relative. Had I only entered the "correct" spelling of Trautvetter, I would have missed this reference. If there had been any entries in the index under Trautvetter , tr%t%tter would have caught them.

Another search was for Augusta Newman. His first name sometimes contains the final "a" and sometimes does not and his surname appears in several different variations. It was desired to search for the surnames of Newman, Newmann, Neuman, Neumann and to combine this with a search that would locate August and Augusta as a first name. In this case, the search term entered in the patentee first name box was August% and the search term entered in the patentee last name box was N%m%n. This resulted in several results, none of which appeared to be my ancestor. Remember, no guarantees.

The Underscore ( _ )
Where the % allows any number of characters to be used in its place, the underscore requires that exactly one character be used as a substitute. There may be times when this search is more appropriate, especially when other searches result in an extremely large number of hits.

A search was desired for a James Kile or Kyle. In this case, I wanted to only have one letter between the K and the l, not none or more than one. A search for K_le would result in hits such as Kile, Kyle, Kale, Kole, etc. The underscore can serve certain search purposes, but make certain you are not overlooking results by using it.

Combing the Two Types of Wildcard Searches
I also wanted to conduct a search for Enoch Tinsley. This individual's first name can appear as Enock, Enoch, Enok, etc. The "T" is sometimes misread as an "F" or an "L." The name can also appear as Tinsly. I'd like a search to cover as many of these difficulties as possible. My resulting search was:
Surname: _insl%y
Firstname: Eno%

It's not perfect. After all, it will not catch Tensley (notice that the second letter in the surname must be an "I"). It is always important to try and determine what your search will not catch in addition to what it will catch.

What About Soundex (BLM Won't Do It)
Bear in mind that a Soundex search serves a slightly different purpose from a wildcard search and in some cases is more broad and flexible. In fact a wildcard search for Trautvetter performed as "Tr%t%etter" will locate Trantvetter. This rendering would not be located by a Soundex based search as the "u" (a vowel) has been replaced by an '"n" (a consonant) due to a misinterpretation of the handwriting resulting the "u" being read as an "n." The BLM site does not support Soundex based searches. Most alternate spellings based on phonetics can be searched for using wildcard searches.

How Can I Decide on the Best Way to Search
One excellent way is to make a list of the main variant spellings of the surname you are searching for. Be certain to include phonetic variations (such as Trautvetter, Troutfetter, Troutvetter, or Hausman, Housman, Houseman) and likely misinterpretations of handwriting. Once you have listed the alternates determine what they have in common. It may not be possible to cover all the variants with one search.

Go Wild But Not Crazy
Of course a search for % as the surname will catch every entry in the index. The BLM site will not return all the matches and this type of search is equivalent to looking through every entry individually.

It Doesn't Hurt to Try
I located a land sale for my third great-grandfather William S. Newman using the site. Searching for William S. Newman resulted in some matches, one of which was in Tipton County, Indiana. I did not know that William had owned property in Tipton County and was concerned whether or not it was the same man. Mine had lived in Rush County, Indiana at the time of the 1850 purchase based upon other records I had. Imagine my surprise when I looked at the land patent image and it stated William S. Newman of "Rush County, Indiana."

I need to follow up, but there's a good chance it's my man. William was married to Rebecca Tinsley in 1839 and she lived until at least 1870. The Newmans left Indiana in the 1860s, by which time William had sold this property. If there's a release of dower on the sale of the property in Tipton County, the wife's name may be mentioned and if it's a Rebecca it really helps me make a case for the fact that it's my guy.

No guarantees, no promises, but a little creativity may improve your luck.

Copyright 2000, Michael John Neill. Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his Web site at:

The BLM site can be searched at:

used by the author on his website with permission

Land & Property Research in the United States  by E Wade Hone--an excellent guide to deed and land record research


 Other Land Record Articles by Michael John Neill