Boolean Searches and Wildcards on

the Fulton History Newspaper Site


Cliff Lamere     Oct 2015




This webpage is meant to describe boolean searches and the use of wildcards (advanced methods of searching) on the Fulton History website.  If you have not already done so, it would be best to first learn the basic techniques for using that site by reading my webpage called Using the Fulton History Newspaper Site.  The FH website is extremely valuable for genealogical research, but searches often get hundreds or thousands of hits, making it very difficult and time consuming to sort through them.  Spelling errors in the OCR text is common which means you may not find what is actually there.  My other webpage will help you understand the problems and normal use of the site.  This webpage will show you how to get fewer, but better hits.




   Five boolean Search Options     AND     OR     NOT     ( )     " "

   Wildcard Searches   (?  w/4)

   Restrict Search to a Single Newspaper

   Restrict Search to Two Newspapers



Boolean Search Options


There are just a few boolean search options: AND, OR, NOT, ( ), and " "


   AND          example:  married AND died


This would find only newspaper pages on which both words were present.


   OR          example:  married OR died


This would find every newspaper page on which one, or the other, or both words were present. 


   NOT  (preceded by AND)          example:  married AND NOT died


The word married would be on all pages found, but only those which did not also have the word died.  This boolean operator is used to eliminate a word or particular spelling of a name from your search results.  It is preceded by the word AND.  But, you should realize that eliminating that word may also eliminate the one hit you were seeking.  Here is an example that uses NOT twice.


Gardinier AND NOT Gardiner AND NOT Clarence


   ( )          example:  married AND (died OR born)


Married would appear on all pages found, and so would either the word died or born, or both.  Parentheses help to group the terms to which an operator like AND or OR applies.  (married AND died) OR born would have a different meaning because the parentheses are in a different place.  In this latter case, married and died must both be present if either is present.  If they are both present, born may or may not be there.  If they are both absent, born must be present.


   " "          example:  "John W. Jones" AND Jennifer


This is treated as a single word in searches because of the quotation marks. 



Wildcard Searches   (?  w/4)


These two wildcards are extremely helpful, and they can be used with any of the four search options, not just boolean searches.


   ?          example:  Cath?rine          Gard?n?er


This will find any single letter in that location in the word.  Common spellings in the past were both Catharine and Catherine, so using this wild card will find either spelling.  That avoids an additional search with the second spelling.  More than one ? can be used in a word. 


In my own research, Gardenier/Gardinier is my main interest.  By searching for Gard?n?er, I solve several problems at once.  The first ? will allow me to get Gardenier and Gardinier, but also Gardanier and Gardonier (the latter two are occasional spellings).   The second ? will allow me to find any of the four mentioned spellings that end in -ier and eer. 


Due to Optical Character Recognition (OCR) errors mentioned in my other webpage, the i is often misinterpreted as the lower case l.  Using the second ?, the search engine will find both Gardinier and its OCR misspellings of Gardlnier, Gardinler, and Gardlnler.  When reading the actual article, the human eye can see the correct spelling even though the OCR program cannot.


   w/4          Connors w/4 married          Brady w/5 "Carlton D."


The w means "within".  The first search means that Connors and married must be within 4 or fewer words of each other, and either word can be first (an important feature).  The 4 can be replaced with a number of your own preference in a particular situation (I use up to 9).  The second search is quite helpful when looking for Carlton D. Brady, especially when his name is broken up as in, "Carlton D. and Mary Smith Brady visited her parents."  An exact search for "Carlton D. Brady" would miss all articles which name both the man and wife before the surname.


The number has worked for me up to w/15, but with larger numbers you will get more hits that are not related to what you seek.  Here is an example of why using w/9 can be important.  A search for "Gardenier w/9 died" (without quotation marks) will find the following example, which would have been missed if a smaller number had been used.


Mrs. Gardenier, while visiting her mother Mrs. Andrew H. Jones, died in her sleep.


BUT, occasionally you may get zero hits.  Trying the search multiple times may result in a proper search result.  If I still get zero hits, and I feel confident that hits should have occurred, I wait awhile and try again.  This wildcard is very valuable.  The boolean option has worked better for me, even though wp/ is supposed to work with other searches as well.  It may depend on how many people are using the search engine at the moment. 



Wildcard That Works Poorly


The * is a wildcard that is supposed to work, but gives very misleading results that might cause you to give up a search prematurely.  Originally a part of this webpage, I have removed it and reported the problem to the webmaster of the Fulton History site.  Information about using the * is now on a separate webpage where I show proof that it works somewhat, but does not work as intended.  It misses up to 75% of what it should find.  Click here to read that webpage.



Restrict Search to a Single Newspaper


If you are going to concentrate on a particular city of publication, you can choose the boolean search option from the drop-down menu.  It is an extremely valuable search option for the Fulton History website, because it greatly reduces the number of hits by focusing only on newspapers from the locality you choose.  The following are two examples of such a search on that site.    


Jones AND married AND (Filename contains (Albany NY)) AND (Filename contains (1927~~1950))


"James W. Jones" AND married AND (Filename contains (Albany NY)) AND (Filename contains (1927~~1950))


The first example says that you want the name Jones and the word married on the same page, and that the PDF filename (the hit link) must contain Albany NY, and that you only want to see newspapers that occur in the date range of 1927-1950.  Because of the quotation marks in the second example, "James W. Jones" is handled by the search engine as a single word.


The word AND is required between each part of this boolean search.  Although it is usually shown capitalized, that is not necessary on that site.  The parts appearing in parentheses above must have the exact format that is shown.  The locality of publication must include the 2-letter state code with no comma between them.  The date range must have two tildes (~~) separating the years, but if you search for only a single year, they must be omitted.  You can only change the parts of the examples above that are in black font (Jones or James W. Jones, married, locality (no comma), and the years you want to view).  More words can be part of the search as long as each is separated from the other words with an AND.


Note: You must know how this site records the desired locality in its PDF filenames.  Otherwise, it won't be found.  Every city has a newspaper, so you can try guessing by useing the city's name plus the two-letter state code.  For smaller localities, you could put that name into the search and hope.  Or, from previous searches, you may remember the location of the local newspaper.  Or, do an "exact phrase" search for the name and see what newspapers appear in the hit links.  Then, try a boolean search using the newspaper information.


Syntax Error:  If you make any mistakes typing the boolean search string, you will get zero hits.  To distinguish this from a good search that can also have zero hits, look near the top of the screen where it shows your Search Results.  Look for a message in a small font saying, "The search request contained a syntax error."  If you find that, correct the error and try again. 



Restrict Search to Two Newspapers


Boolean searches using OR give you an option of choosing more than one newspaper to be included in the hits. 


Jones AND died AND (Filename contains (Albany NY)) OR (Filename contains (Troy NY)) AND (Filename contains (1927~~1950))


If you were to replace the OR with an AND, each hit would have to have both Albany NY and Troy NY in the hit link (filename) which is impossible.  The search would fail.


Since the boolean search line will be difficult to memorize, you may want to copy and paste my example somewhere where you can change the search items in black to match what you want to find.  Then simply paste the new line into the search engine.  Don't forget to select the boolean search option.





While writing this webpage, I discovered something that probably won't work in boolean searches on most other websites.  I don't know why it should work on this one.


If you search for just Jones AND married (in a boolean search or exact search), an amazing thing happens.  All hits have one word between Jones and married (Jones is always the first word of the two).  Jones AND AND married results in hits that have Jones followed by two words and then married.  Five or ten ANDs result in hits that have five or ten words between Jones and married!!!!


It is an interesting fluke, which can be useful.  However, the w/4 search term mentioned earlier would return hits for Jones and married when they were 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 words apart (0-4 words between them), and it would not matter which word came first.  It is potentially much more useful.


The search engine is not consistent concerning these unexpected uses of AND.  It was not designed for such uses, and sometimes it fails in the search.  You may get zero hits, you may get an error message mentioning a syntax error, and you may get hits that don't have the desired number of words apart.  Ignore these problems.  Just change the search option from boolean to exact phrase or vice versa, then try again.  If it doesn't work, switch back.  Fortunately, w/4 (using the number of your choice) will get the same result or a better one.




The webpage you are on is part of a series of webpages about the Fulton History newspaper site.  It is written to help you make more productive searches.


Using the Fulton History Newspaper Site


Boolean Searches and Wildcards on the Fulton History Newspaper Site     (the page you are on)


A Wildcard Search That Works Poorly on the Fulton History Site


Visitors since 5 Oct 2015