|Wiley & Martha (Maloney) Johnson|
Several techniques I use are documented in other posts, like using full and partial phonetic sounds and "exact" spellings.
The key is always to narrow down the list from hundreds to a few dozen, until you have only a few left. Of course, the more you know about the subject, the better, but along the way, you need to make some assumptions, keep good notes on all family names and never jump to conclusions.
Always try to narrow your search to location, and by year, familial connections, sex, race, and any other biographical information you may have. If you have done this, also consider trying to isolate your subject through other similar document searches. For example, if doing a Federal census surname search and still find too many people with the same name, take a peek at the State census records. Since most states did their census records +5 years after the Federal, you may find a common family name gets smaller.
If you anchor onto a location, a surname isolation becomes much easier. If you are certain, then it becomes a puzzle for you to solve, by building up the connecting pieces. BEWARE you do not identify a different family, which can happen the further you go back and why it is always best to keep a list of the paths you went and the reasons you found a dead end or the next line.
Another method that I use is to isolate by an inlaws family. For example, if you are searching for Johnson and John Johnson married Sarah Butterfield, search for the Butterfields. They are likely in the neighborhood and can help you find a name through married.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
A cousin in law (not out).