Just read a helpful blog about how to use wildcards when researching online. You can read it here. I have to admit that I'm not very good at using wildcards or identifying the many, varied and unusual ways my ancestors spelled their names. I think that many of my brick walls could could tumbling down if I took the time to use the wildcard search approach.
Another method I've used was just plain dumb luck but it taught me a very simple way that I've used since. I once had a dead end on my paternal grandmother's line. A distant family member thought my 2nd great grandmother's name was Maria Dure. I searched and searched for years and found nada! It never dawned on me that I had two of the letters reversed in the last name. Duh, DURE should have been DUER. I would love to take credit for that discovery but alas, wasn't me who figured this out. I'm not sure how the gentleman found me but I received an email asking me about by DUER connection. I responded I didn't see any Duer's in my tree. The writer than let me know he suspected my Maria Dure was a long lost line he was pursuing. He knew his missing Maria had married an immigrant named Kuhn and sure enough, once I began looking for Maria under Duer the whole line fell into place! He was kind enough to send me his years of Duer research and they are just a fun family to learn about. (Well, probably getting kicked out of England wasn't exactly fun, nor later being shunned or having to payoff an indenture in the Caribbean but you understand what I mean)
Last technique I've used is adding or removing an ending. My Koss' are really Kos. Have found documents with both names so it pays to play with the last name.
Sorry this is so short but I'm recuperating from jet lag! Once my head clears I'm going to take my own advice and play with my Bird or is it Byrd?! or Berd or Burd line. Happy Hunting!