Use Abbreviations and Nicknames in Newspaper Searches to Drastically Add Pertinent Results

Guest Post by Kenneth R. Marks of The Ancestor Hunt

In the “olden days,” newspaper publishers were quite frugal. They generally kept each issue to the same number of pages, whether they be 4, or 8, or other. Space was at a premium. In order to maximize the text on a page, they often used abbreviations to save space and thus save ink and paper.


Below is a list of common abbreviations frequently used in old newspapers. Current newspapers do not employ these abbreviations as much as in older newspapers.

Eliz for Elizabeth Capt for Captain 
Wm for WilliamPl for Place 
Sgt for Sergeant Co for Company
Ave for Avenue Pres for President 
Corp for CorporationLn for Lane 
Jno for JohnCol for Colonel 
St for StreetChas for Charles
NYC for New York City Benj for Benjamin
Jos for JosephCpl for Corporal
Jas for JamesGeo for George
Margt for MargaretRobt for Robert
Saml for SamuelThos for Thomas
Inc for IncorporatedGenl for General

To demonstrate the power of searching with abbreviations, I searched for a common name, “William Smith,” and received 16,998 results. I then searched for “Wm Smith,” and the search returned 7,779 results. That is an increase of 46%, just by using the abbreviated name!

I highly encourage using the abbreviations above as part of your search repertoire. And there are many more abbreviations that were often used.

Here’s a longer list of name abbreviations that might be useful that is found in Genealogy In Time magazine’s First Name Abbreviations.


Another useful technique is the use of nicknames as part of your search. Just for fun, let’s use “Abraham Lincoln” as our base search, and then let’s try “Abe Lincoln” as well. “Abraham Lincoln” returns 52,769 results, and “Abe Lincoln” returns 4,532 results. Not as much of a surprise as using abbreviations, but still, there is a 9% increase in results.

There is something more important in understanding the use of nicknames in your search criteria. Whereas abbreviations were likely placed in the newspaper as a space saver by the publisher or typesetter, nicknames may have been the only way to find specific individuals in the newspaper. That is because many people were only known by their nickname rather than their complete given name. 

Here is a list of frequently used nicknames for common names of old:

Abigail, TabithaAbbie, AbbyJacksonJohn, Jack
AbrahamAbe, AbraJacobJake
AlexanderAlec, Alex, SandyJanet, VirginiaJenny 
AliceAllie, ElsieJedidiahJed
Antoinette, HenriettaNettie JohnJack
ArchibaldArch, ArchieJosiah, CyrusSi, Cy
August, AugustusAugie, GusKatherine, KathleenKate, Kay
BartholomewBart, BatLafayetteLafe
CarolineCallie, CarrieMagdaleneMaude
C/KatherineKittyMalachi, Malcolm  Mal
CharlotteLollie, LottieMargaret, MargeryMadge, Meg, Maggie
Clarissa, Clarinda ClaraMargaretMattie, Molly
Cornelius ConMargaretPatsy, Patty, Peggy
Cyrus CyMaryMamie, Polly
DorothyDolly, DotMindwell, Wilhelmina Mina
EdithEdieMinerva Millie
Edwin, EdwardNed, EdNathaniel Nat, Nate
Eleanor, Ellen, HelenNellieNewton Newt
Elizabeth Bess, BetseyOliver Olli
EstherEssiePatrick Paddy
FlorenceFlora, FlossiePenelope Penny
FrancesFanny, FrankiePhineas Finney
FrederickFritzRichard Dick
HaroldHenry, HalSarah Sadie, Sally
HarrietHattyThaddeus Tad
Henrietta, LouettaEttaVirgil Virg
HenryHank, HarryWiley, WilliamWillie
Isaac IkeWinifred, Edwina Winnie

For a much longer list of old nicknames, check out FamilySearch’s Traditional Nicknames.

So, there you have it – a really easy way to find more people in old newspapers. I absolutely guarantee that you will obtain drastically more pertinent results using abbreviations and nicknames in your search criteria.

Interested in trying your hand at searching using nicknames? Visit for a 7-Day Free Trial and start today.

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