There are several options you can select when searching for a person in our databases. You can search all of the databases at once, or select a specific database. You can choose to search for only a surname, given name, or both. (Some databases have a few additional choices to narrow the search.) Finally, you can search for a name using Begins with, Contains, or Soundex (for surnames only).
The names in our databases were extracted exactly as they were written by the authors. Before the 20th century spelling of names was not consistent from one record to the next. In fact, one can find many examples of documents that contain a person's name spelled in several creative ways. This is especially true of German names, which might contain characters with umlauts (mostly e, o, and u). Sometimes these characters were written with the umlaut (e.g. Müller); sometimes with the vowel followed by an e (e.g. Mueller). In other cases the writer might just forget to add the umlaut.
There are many other possible variations within names. Letters might be doubled, or not (Hofmann vs. Hofman); vowels changed based on the way the name was heard (Boetner to Bitner) ; consonants swapped with similar sounding consonants (d and t, p and b). German spelling frequently used double character sounds that are usually shortened in English (sch to sh, dt to t). Given all these variations, you need to be creative in how you search for a person in records.
When searching our databases, we recommend that you start with the most common spelling of a surname. Enter that name (or the first part of it) into the Surname box and select Begins with. Do not select a record type initially. When you click the search icon (magnifying glass), that surname will be searched in each of the databases. The records returned will include the person's full name, the database in which it was found, and a link to the details of each record (under Actions). You can explore each of the records found. If there are too many records to look at, you can restrict the search by entering a given name (or part of one) and searching again.
Some of the databases allow you to restrict results further. Some allow you to search for the name as a specific role (such as a husband for a marriage record). Others allow you to restrict the search to specific years. By selecting one database, you can reduce the number of results by selecting a role or date. You might want to do this if you have a common surname (like Miller) and get too many results.
The other problem might be too few results. In that case you have several options to try. You can try a search using just the first few characters of the surname. Or you could choose a few characters in the middle of the name and select the Contains option. For example, to find various spellings of Grünhardt (Greenhard, Grünhardt), you might use "nhar" as your search term. While that might return too many results, it will enable you to find different combinations of this surname.
Finally, you can enter your best guess at the spelling of a surname and use the Soundex option. As the name implies, the database will be searched for every surname that has the same Soundex code. An entry of Snider will return results with that exact name, along with Snyder, Schneider, and many other similar names. You can restrict the number of extraneous results by adding some of the options described above.
You might have to be creative. If none of the techniques above seems to give you expected results, try spelling the name phonetically in different ways. Imagine how the name might have been spelled differently. Use a combination of the options above to explore different possible spellings. In the end, the name you are looking for might simply not be in any of these records. But don't give up too easily.