Fold3 HQ

Searching Footnote

Before we launched Footnote, we knew search would be central to the success of the site. But, we couldn’t really know how people would want to search the site, or how our data and images would be best searched until we had some people using the site and a wide selection of data to test against.

On the horns of this dilemma, we decided to launch the site with a simple search that would allow people to find what they were looking for while we gathered feedback that we could use to make search better.

Thanks to everyone for your comments and feedback about search. We hope that as you continue to use the site you’ll send us any suggestions you have using the contact form here.

Although the current search is simple, it does have some advanced options that we thought you might like to know about. We’ll be creating some search helps, but for our blog readers, here’s a sneak peek at some of the things you can do.

Basic Search
The basic search on Footnote looks for records that include all the terms you put in the search box, but if it doesn’t find any records with all your terms it will look for records that include some of the terms you included.

Advanced Search Options
For those of you who like a little more control over your search, you can use some simple commands to create a more sophisticated query.

  • Put quotes around exact phrases you want to search for.
    Example [updated]:
    “defend the constitution”
    Note: Don’t use quotes around first and last name (names are often in different fields of the index).
  • Use AND to link words that must be in the result, but not in a particular order.
    John AND Adams
  • Adding a plus symbol before a word (or words) will also limit results to those that include the word(s).
    Example: +murder +revolver
  • Add a minus symbol before terms you want to exclude.
    -quincy +john +adams
  • Adding a NOT before a word will also exclude that word from your search.
    +john +adams NOT quincy
  • Use OR to do one search that returns result with similar words.
    Sorensen OR Sorenson
  • Use parentheses to group words and commands.
    (Gen OR General) +Washington
  • Use one or more question marks in place of a letter to search for variants or errors (note: the ? cannot be the first letter of the word).
    Sorens?n = Sorenson, Sorensen, etc.
    Example #2: Joh??n = Johnson, Johngen, Johnosn


  1. J Luff says:

    Searching functions are the least of Footnote’s problems. The site’s structure makes it very difficult to read and download sizeable files. Keyword searching in the voluminous BI files yields hits on single pages, yet for larger files, the filmstrip function on the viewer doesn’t display the file pages in order. Thus you can’t just click on the previous or following document pages and download chunks of files. Moreover in the browse function, BI files are not listed in numerical order. With hundreds of thousands of files, users can’t just page through and find files by number. I strongly urge you to improve the functions of Footnote. Otherwise NARA should not contract with this unknown provider with inadequate technology.

  2. mike says:

    Thanks for your feedback. Determining the right way to browse each of the different publications is a challenge, especially with the Bureau of Investigation documents. Categorization beyond the series and the case number is difficult. This unfortunately led us to an undesirable situation where we have thousands of items in one browse level. As we review each publication, we work to avoid these situations and are working on better techniques for mitigating the problems that are seen in the Bureau of Investigation documents. We are constantly looking for better ways to empower our users to find and use the documents on our site and contribute their own content. Additionally we are always looking for fresh perspectives and appreciate this and any additional feedback that you have for us.

  3. Adding a Soundex option to search would be a great addition.

  4. I have been regularly using most of the above operands, but was unaware of the parenthesis useage for grouping words, that should be helpful.

    Good luck with this long needed access to files and records that have remained in the deep dark recesses. Everyone knows that these goodies are likley at NARA but their search methods are almost impossible and I usually give up in total frustration.

    Keep ’em commin’!

  5. Connie Moretti says:

    A feature that would allow the selection of multiple pages, such as an entire pension file or Southern claim, to either download or print would be a wonderful timesaver.

    I also join the chorus hoping you will be able to make Civil War Pension files available.

  6. I ask you to add a “save filmstrip”. It will be usefull for save a MACR (for example), it is hard to save ten or more pages in the current way.