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How Do I Use Regular Expressions?
Regular expressions is an interesting topic in computer science. You can literally write books and books about the subject. The purpose of regular expressions is to provide a means of searching a list of items looking for a certain pattern. Below is a quick and dirty lesson on how to use regular expressions to search for names in this web site.

In its simplest form, a regular expression can simply by a word or list of characters. For example, using the pattern "Wirth" would find any names that contains the word Wirth. It can occur as a first name, middle name, or last name, or even part of another word, just as long as those five characters appear in that order somewhere in the full name.

Suppose you want to find just the word "John" and not anything that contains "John" (such as Johnson). You can use the "\b" to indicate the beginning and/or end of a word. For example, entering the pattern "\bJohn\b" will find only name containing John and not Johnson. You can use "\b" just at the beginning to find names that begin with a string, or you can use it just at the end to find names that end with a certain string (i.e. using "son\b" as a pattern will find Johnson, Hanson, Benson, and many other names).

Let's say you're looking for a Hanson, but you're not sure if it is spelled Hanson or Hansen. You can use brackets to denote a list. For example, the pattern "Hans[eo]n" will find all Hanson's and Hansen's. You can also use a hyphen to denote an implied list (i.e. "\b[A-F]" will find any name beginning with A, B, C, D, E, or F). To generalize the Hanson example, if you use "Hans.n" it will find any spellings other than with an "e" or an "o". The period represents any single character.

You can use the "*" to repeat characters. For example, the pattern "A*" will find A, AA, AAA, and so on. The asterisk can also represent zero characters (the pattern "BA*" matches, B, BA, BAA, and so on). Note that the asterisk only repeats the character immediately preceding the asterisk.

If you want to look for names that contain a certain number of characters you can use the {}'s. Here are some examples: A{4} will match any names containing four contiguous A's; A{4,} will match names containing four or more contiguous A's; A{,4} will match names containing at most four contiguous A's; A{4,6} will match names containing between four and six contiguous A's.

Finally, there is the beginning of line character (^) and the end of line character ($). You can use these to specifically look for first or last names. For example: "^Sally" will find any names where the first name is Sally, "Johnson$" will find any names where the last name is Johnson.

 

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Plasschaert-Wirth Family Tree
Created and maintained by Chad M. Calsyn
This page last updated December 21, 2001