Posted by on June 29, 2008 in Ancestry.com Site, Searching for Records

My last post about our new search received a number of comments from concerned readers about the new search experience.  I’d like to address some of them in this post.

Before I begin, I think that it is important to explain that most people really like the new search interface.  According to our research, over 75% of the people who have tried it out think that it is at least as good as the old search experience, and over 50% think that it is significantly better than the old search experience.  That’s a great start, but we’d like even more of you to be happy with the new search experience–so we’re going to keep working on improving it.

It’s also important for me to clarify something about the new search.  Nearly all of the search changes you see are in the interface, not in the search engine itself.  That’s because making a change to the interface is usually more straight-forward than making a change to the search engine.  Changing the search engine is more like turning a huge boat–it is a big operation that takes a long time!  But that doesn’t mean we’re not working on it.  In fact, we’ve been toiling away on some good improvements to the search engine that should make searching Ancestry.com easier.  I hope that I’ll be able to announce some of those changes in the next few months. So, while our search engine team is trying to “turn the ship”, we decided to make some changes to the interface to make it easier to use.

Now on to the concerns.  Here is the general gist of a few of the recurring concerns…

Concern #1: The search is returning results that aren’t even possibly right (Examples: Searched for someone who died in 1861 and got back a match for the 1930 US Federal Census. Searched for a person born in West Virginia but get back matches from the British Isles).

This has to do with the way the search engine works–it basically looks for any possible match that might be for your ancestor.  Now it’s unlikely that a death in 1861 was mistranscribed and should have been 1961, but it is possible.  Thus, the engine will return the match if other elements of the record look similar to the search criteria even if something looks wrong, just in case the input data was incorrect.  That said, this is something we’re trying to improve to make the search engine stricter when it comes to dates that are clearly outside of the person’s lifespan.  As for the location fuzziness, we return these matches because they could possibly be for the right person—we find that often times users inherited incorrect information about their ancestors and/or they didn’t realize their ancestors lived in a different location for a time period.  I’ve had this happen to me several times in my research.  That said, I know it is aggravating when you know a match is wrong and you still get it.  We’re trying to improve the search engine to make it stricter on locations as well.

I tried a ranked search in both the old and the new systems for John Williams b. 1782, d. 1861.  The first matches I got were in the US Federal Census Mortality Schedules in the right time frame.  The only way a 1930 match would appear first is if the search engine did not find anything that was closer in terms of the names, places and the dates I searched on.  Now, if I want to get only results that closely match the death date, for example, I can simply click on “Advanced” in the new search system, open the death information and click the “Exact” checkbox for the death year.  (I can make timeframe a little broader by giving it +/- 5 years.)  When running this search, I could not possibly get back any 1930 census results because the dates do not exactly match any data in the 1930 census records.  Similarly on location, I can simply check the “exact” box next to the location I want to match exactly, and I will receive only matches with that location.  Using the advanced features is simple and will weed out the other partial matches.

So the bottom line is that we think we can eventually make the search engine stricter on these types of matches.  You can also use the “Advanced” functionality in the new search to limit the results you get back on a particular field to only those that exactly match what you specify–this should also eliminate any of those erroneous 1930 census matches or the British Isles matches.

Concern #2: I can’t find what I’m used to in the new search, but I can in the old search

I’m not sure exactly how to respond to this issue.  We’ve done a significant amount of testing, and nearly all of the searches between the new and the old search return the same results when they’re entered the same way.  If you find examples where they are materially different, please send VERY SPECIFIC EXAMPLES to new-search@ancestry.com and I’ll take a look at them and see what we can learn (please include the URLs/addresses to the results so I can see them).

Concern #3: The card catalog is hard to use

I agree that the card catalog isn’t as easy to use as it should be.  We’re working on making it a lot easier to search the card catalog, rather than only being able to browse it.  We’re also trying to make it more intuitive and use the space better to display more matches in a single screen.  Hopefully you’ll begin to see some of those changes in the next couple of weeks.

Concern #4: Ancestry.com indexes are low quality–you should spend time fixing the indexes rather than improving the search

Building indexes from hand-written records is extremely difficult and time-consuming, and is as much an art as it is a science.  My first experience indexing old records about people that weren’t in my family lines was a humbling process.  We spend six months training each of our indexers to understand nuances of old handwriting in order to bring more content online quickly while still meeting quality standards–we also spend millions of dollars each year making records available.  I know that our indices have transcription errors in them–any indexing process does.  To help combat this common problem, we encourage anyone who finds an error to provide corrections to the names in our indices. Those name corrections are usually re-indexed as alternates within weeks of being submitted.  In order to submit a comment or correction on a record, simply click on the “Comments and Corrections” link on the record page.  We’re also working on ways to allow you to correct any information on the records, not just names.  Additionally, we have internal maintenance projects to improve the records we already have online.

That said, I think the solution to this issue is really two-pronged:  (1) Allow anyone to correct mistranscriptions; (2) Have the search engine find fuzzy matches on names, dates, and places–our name search, for example, searches on exact matches, as well as matches from our name authority (full of alternate spellings), Soundex matches, and common abbreviations and misspellings.  This allows you to more easily find transcription errors.  Similarly, the fuzziness around dates and places also helps with transcription errors on elements other than names.

Concern #5: The location fields in the new search don’t recognize counties

The location fields in the new search do recognize counties.  You can simply begin typing the county name and select it from the type-ahead list.  For example, if I start typing “Utah” in the location field, the type-ahead listing gives me an option for “Utah, USA” (this would be the state), and the next option is “Utah, Utah, USA” (this is Utah County in Utah).  Now if I type in “Payson” I get a choice for “Payson, Utah, USA” — that doesn’t mean that the county won’t be searched, it is just that we’re not displaying it in the limited space available in the search box.  We still search on the county as well as the city.  I hope this clarification helps.

Concern #6: I keep getting zero results in the new search

I think I understand what’s happening here–one of the neatest features in the new search is that it remembers the information from your Ancestry.com Member Tree, and when you begin typing names into the search box, you can select a name from your family tree and it will fill out the whole search form for you.  Obviously, your tree may contain many details about the person for whom you’re searching, including the names of their parents, siblings, children, their birth and death information, etc.  As a result, checking the “Exact matches only” checkbox would return only matches that both have all of that information specified AND match each element exactly–finding such a match would be a truly rare event.  Thus, your best bet is to avoid checking the “Exact matches only” checkbox when using this feature.  Instead, turn on the “Advanced” options and select a few of the fields that you want to be exact rather than the entire set of fields.  For example, you may want to mark only the surname, the birth year, and the birth location as exact–this should give you a small set of good matches.

Thanks for posting your comments about our search experience.  Your passion for our products and family history research really come through.  That’s what we’re trying to do with the new search–make that experience easier for everyone.  We’re dedicated to improving the new search experience on Ancestry.com to make it better and better, and your feedback is valuable in that process.

49 Comments

Linda 

You did not address some commonly expressed concerns from this blog, message boards, and comments I hear in the genealogy community:

1) Exact Searches – When “Match all terms exactly” is checked, instead of getting just the exact matches as in the old method, the message “We didn’t find any strong matches….” and suggested results is displayed. Exact searches is a feature I used 99% of the time. It is VERY ANNOYING to click a link with listed results and get this message. I don’t need Ancestry’s suggestions when I KNOW want I want to search for. Yes, I may research under different name spellings but GIVE US THAT CONTROL/CHOICE.

2)Adding Additional Steps – It is more time consuming to have to click on a criteria category to get the text boxes for entry.

3)Your survey questions are horrible. When asked how much we use “exact searches”, is that for the old method or new method? I can’t imagine that 50% of the long term users think it is significantly better and 75% think it is at least as good. I have not heard one positive comment from long term Ancestry users when asked about it. Most are very technically competent and welcome GOOD changes. Was it surveys that led TGN to release FTM 2008 even though the users were outraged with the public Beta released just prior to the full release? You might want to evaluate the credibility of your survey results.

4) Displaying the Card Catalog categories to the left of the criteria entry is a poor use of “real estate”. Just create a prominent link to the Card Catalog rather than consuming the search screen.

5) Develop a way to make the card catalog really useful. For example, add a title search with exact or contains words options. The keyword search is ok for some purposes but is inadquate if I want to zero in on a specific database or set of databases. For example, if I want to get to the North Carolina Marriage Index quickly, with the keyword search I get a whole lot of federal related databases that may include North Carolina as well as the North Carolina specific database I’m looking for in a multi-page list. It is a lot of trouble to get to it. If I had the option to search by the TITLE (either exact or contains words), I could get to the database I want more quickly.

6) We all understand that transcription of historical records is difficult but there is definately something lacking in your quality processes as compared to other vendors. And, not all your indexes are transcribed. As of memorial day, TGN still hadn’t corrected the import of the World War II enlistment records where the civil occupation field is inaccurate and the available army serial number was not included. This was an import error, not a transcription error and an example of poor quality processes. TGN admitted last fall it was an import error but did nothing about it. It is not that difficult of problem to correct. At least NARA, the source of the index, is online.

It sounds like you are making some effort to improve but recognize that TGN has a long ways to go before quality is at a satisfactory level.

I am one of many long term subscribers you have lost in part because of making changes that contain no value and in fact, reduce the positive aspects of my past experiences with Ancestry. I will listen to comments of long term users, not your survey results, to determine if and when TGN has improved the quality and value of Ancestry enough to resubscribe.

June 29, 2008 at 9:19 am
Randall Permann 

I found this very difficult to use. I can’t get anywhere!

June 29, 2008 at 1:53 pm
Kendall Hulet 

Linda:

Thanks for your comment. Let me respond here to at least some of your points.

1) Exact Searches – I totally agree with you. This is a bug that I thought we had fixed, but obviously the fix hasn’t been rolled out yet. I’ll follow up on that. One thing I would suggest is changing the View in the upper-right-hand part of the page to “Summarized by Category” rather than “Sorted by Relevance” – I think this will help a lot. Try it and let me know what you think.

2 – Additional Steps – yes, I agree that this is also something we can improve. I sent a great post on it from Randy Seaver over to our designer to see if we can reduce the number of clicks. Stay tuned.

3 – Survey – We’ve used several survey methods (more than the one to which you are referring) and found that, although conflicting with your intuition, many experienced researchers prefer the new search to the old search.

4 – Category links – we’ve tested this with many users and haven’t found that it raises much concern having links on the left-hand of the search box because it is all still visible on the page at once. In fact, many prefer having those links there for even faster access to the most popular categories.

5 – Card Catalog – I agree that we can make the card catalog search better. We’re working on that.

6 – Indexing – we’re doing our best to provide voluminous amounts of data at a good quality level, and we’re making some enhancements to the site that will allow users to do more corrections themselves to fix errors. I’ll pass on your WWII comments to our content folks.

Finally, I wanted to thank you for your comments. We’re doing our best to listen and improve the site. :)

June 29, 2008 at 7:49 pm
Steve 

I agree with Linda; I’ve heard/read nothing good about this new interface. And I’ve had nothing but frustration trying to use it.

Data I know is there doesn’t show up (and I submitted a report on that to the address in the article).

Constant scrolling, constant clicking, constant silly suggestions that Fred Smith is somehow a good “maybe” match for John Anderson because both were born in Indiana, all very time-consuming and unproductive.

And I pity the poor soul who has nothing but a dial-up connection and is forced to use this interface…

June 30, 2008 at 4:48 am
Samuel Josovic 

Concern #4: Ancestry.com indexes are low quality–you should spend time fixing the indexes rather than improving the search

To help combat this common problem, we encourage anyone who finds an error to provide corrections to the names in our indices. Those name corrections are usually re-indexed as alternates within weeks of being submitted.

Supplying alternates is just confusing. Instead you should get genealogists who are experts in different ethnic spellings to decide which spelling is right. This can be determined also by comparing different census or passenger records for the same person. Similar to what FamilySearch does when it has a discrepancy between 2 transcriptions.

By the way I could make this comment only on IE, not in Firefox.

June 30, 2008 at 8:48 am
JP 

I remember a time when we were informed of this great new improved search engine. One of the improvements was the REMOVAL of the ability to use keywords. Those of us with experience using and searching databases knew the imporance of the ability to use keywords complained. We were told that we only PERCEIVED it’s importance.

Every “improvement” that ancestry has touted for the last couple of years has been a complete disaster.

If ancestry really wants to improve and maybe gain back some old customers their improvements would be:

1. making quality control a top priority
2. adding new USEFUL, QUALITY data
3. fixing “finished” databases that have never been finished and those that don’t work right at all [since I was a subscriber when these databases were "finished" do I get free access to time to get what I've already paid for? Tioga Co., PA WWI cards is once example]
4. returning information that was once there:
a. returning the surnames of parents that were once there in IN marriage databse and disappeard
b. returning the cert# on of the death indexes
c. there are more
5. hiring competent programms
6. quit removing databases that were there and were removed to sell on CDs.
7. scripts that are running, ads for one that now make it take forever for a page to load and freezes the cursor until it’s done
7. etc., etc., etc.

ancestry has been wasting time and energy with the “improvements” and window dressings the last couple of years. They’ve forgotten about the data and the customer.

“To help combat this common problem, we encourage anyone who finds an error to provide corrections to the names in our indices. Those name corrections are usually re-indexed as alternates within weeks of being submitted”

You want a paying customer to do this? We are – were in my case – paying for reliable data. I would be glad to do it if I had been rewarded by ancestry for fixing their errors. I found so many errors every day that if I corrected each one and received a small but decent stipend for doing ancestry’s work I would have had a free subscription every year.

Your survey reults must be from some new “improved” way of taking surveys. Most surveys stipulate the error rate. ancestry’s error rate must 75+%.

June 30, 2008 at 10:07 am
Ronnie 

What are you doing to allow users to make corrections? I have pointed out transcription errors in the census database and have been told that transcription errors cannot be fixed.

June 30, 2008 at 10:52 am
JP 

More about paying subscribers fixing ancestry’s errors on the census index plus a bit more.

First I would like to say there were times when I could not figure out what a name said on an image and the transcriber got it perfect. That was the exception though, rather than the rule.

Users could fix the error like one where it clearly said on the page Maurice and the transcriber wrote Florence.

When ancestry first put in their own alternate spellings, I nearly fell off my chair when I found one person that was perfect the first time through and then ancestry’s alternate [not a user contributed alternate] used a completely different first name and surnane. This is the only time I can remember writing a public message or one to tech support and the gross error got fixed at all and got fixed fast.

And then there were the left out first vowels the second time around. 1860 I think it was. Those could have been fixed by a user too. They may be corrected now.

BUT there are a lot more problems than that.

I don’t believe users can fix relationships. An example is where an 85 year old man was transcribed as the son of a 25 year old man. It clearly said the 85 year old was grandfather.

Users can not fix those pages that ancestry left out the images [almost a whole county in one case - it was at HQ]entirely and users can not fix the indexes where not one name was put in the index from page.

Users can not fix out of order pages.

Users can not fix pages where the first scan before there was an index was full of names, and the second scan had only the first few lines. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find who I was looking for as a double check because I knew they had been there and thought it would be faster using ancestry and the index rather than the copies I’d kept. Sure enough, the origianl page was all there, the one currently online then only contained a couple of names and they were the only ones on the index.

Users can not fix those transcriptions were the transcriber got off a line and has all the relationships and family groupings messed up.

Users can not fix where the census taker forgot to put someone on and added them at the end. The transcriber could have fixed it [via household, visit, etc.]rather than adding them to another family.

Users can not fix the transcribers incorrect spelling of a town/township.

Why can a miracode have everyone and not ancestry’s indexes?

Users can not fix when ancestry put in Colorado as the place of birth when there wasn’t even a Colorado at the time. Those pages listed the county of birth and the transcriber just used the co. and forgot all about the county name. I think they may be fixed now, but it took a long, long, long, time.

Are users suppose to fix all the wrong “maiden” names that ancestry put in? Just because a married female was living as a daughter in a household with a different last name doesn’t mean her maiden was the same as the surname of the head of household.

Other matters.

Do you realize how many names (surnames) don’t come up for people because the name is more characters than ancestry allows?

Soundex?? It’s horrible at ancestry. The metaphone at rootsweb is a lot better.

Fuzzy? Who wants fuzzy?

If exact doesn’t work then using a wild card quite often does even though we had to use 3 characters. It would have been nicer to have been able to use fewer characters sometimes. Especially when those first vowels were missing. We were told that using fewer characters would end up with too many results. That was a false statement. You could put in John and get thousands of results but you couldn’t narrow it down with John C* or John Ca*.

How about including a “begins with” and “contains” and “ends with”?

Yesterday the message boards weren’t showing the little “orange” dot for new messages. They are today.

Yesterday and today, the ancestry side of the message boards had and still has a programming error. Take a look at “Subscribe to RSS”

There were times when you had to put in a name in that “perceived important” keywords box because the person did not show up when using the first and last name boxes. This was the case for one of my revolutionay ancesters. Luckily I knew he was there, I just had to figure out how to get it out of ancestry’s search engine.

There are so many things and other types of databases that ancestry needs to work on but for whatever reason don’t show any inclination in that direction.

June 30, 2008 at 1:40 pm
Kendall Hulet 

Ronnie:

Right now you can make corrections on the main name on the record by clicking on the “Comments and Corrections” link on the record page.

In the future, we hope to allow you to correct more than names–dates, locations, etc.

June 30, 2008 at 3:24 pm
Andy Hatchett 

Dear Mr. Huley,

I think what we are asking for is a commitment from Ancestry that NO new features be added or rolled out until the present shortcommings and errors are corrected.

One other thing.. about the Ads.

Ancestry should limit ads to ONE non-moving graphic or text ads only.

All these cowboys riding, cars zooming, etc do NOTHING to improve the user experience!

June 30, 2008 at 10:18 pm
Mary Beth Marchant 

When I logged on this morning, my new “home page” came . This is ABSOLUTE CRAP. I DO NOT WANT THIS TO COME UP WHEN I LOG ON. Where are the census lists that should be there. Where are the other things that should be there. You did not ask my permission to foist this off on me. Get rid of it. I have been a member of about 10 years, but like other people, I am just about to cancel this crap. WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU PEOPLE THINKING–OR ARE YOU. I do want a “facebook” piece of crap. I want images, and historical records. AWFUL, AWFUL, AWFUL.

July 2, 2008 at 7:38 am
Nancy Rogers 

I agree with with Mary Beth, I do not want a site that is interested in social networking. I want a site where I can do serious reserach. I am currently exploring as many other sites as I can to see what documents are available and am in the process of changing my family tree program. Please Ancestry do not try to compete with Facebook, and these other sites that are nothing but fancy dating services. I help others out with their reserach and am rapidly reaching the point where I will no longer recommend this site to them.

July 2, 2008 at 7:55 am
Billie 

I really do not like the Home page! It requires far more effort to search.

July 2, 2008 at 9:49 am
Brynne Holland 

This has nothing to do with the Ancestry searches. But I cannot find where to post issues with the message boards.

Yesterday for ONE hour, I logged all the errors I experienced on the boards (Rootsweb interface). Although I knew the boards were buggy and error laden, the results of the logging surprised even me:

17 errors in 50 minutes (reduced by 10 minutes during which I had to take a phone call). I kept a detailed log, took screenshots of each error and would like to pass them on to someone who can actually DO something about them. An error every 3 minutes is absolutely ridiculous! Mr. Hulet, WHO will do something about this?

July 2, 2008 at 9:52 am
Bob Scott 

This has taken a great tool and made it harder to use. I don’t want to see a something that links to my family tree. I want to go straight to records. I want to navigate between different libraries quickly.I want to quickly evaluate whether a record that has been found is relevant.

Kill that dumb message about not finding strong matches.

In the old system, I could easily glance at results by census year, and see results there quickly.

Now, I’ve got to thumb down through more pages.

Ancestry seems to think that filling the page with boxes with puffy information makes it more readable.

The box at the top of the search is like the comment on the trees that no pictures have been posted about so-and-so yet. No kidding? Once you get past the first few generations, we’re not going to have pictures.

The whole approach is a “big type” edition for everybody.

I liked the drop down boxes. It eliminated a lot of typing for those of us who do a lot of searching.

Ancestry is trying too hard to do everything for everybody. It’s like that insipid system of labeling family tree entries as sourced or not. Most people don’t use the sourcing for one, and simpling linking to a census page image is pretty bogus.

July 2, 2008 at 11:35 am
Kendall Hulet 

Brynne:

Will you please email your screenshots and thoughts to new-search@ancestry.com?

July 2, 2008 at 2:42 pm
Charles Willford 

Concern #2 means, I believe, is you can’t tell what search result you’ve already merged. You have to go back and forth and look.

After you look at the details of an entry, you are returned back to the top of the page, maddening, not where you left off.

Each time you want to view a record and you select open new page, you indeed get a new view window; but, you have keep selecting new page each time, it should auto new page until you turn it off. I use dual monitors and ver 16 continued to open a new page.

I think the search engine should return the oldest Census’ first, not the new ones that don’t match.

Chuck Willford

July 2, 2008 at 3:33 pm
Anita Short 

This new “look” is most certainly not user friendly. To put it bluntly it is horrible, no matter how experienced one is.
The only only thing good about it is the button on some pages which refers you back to the old sytem.
If this format is set in stone, then this stone will be rolling elsewhere.

July 2, 2008 at 6:06 pm
Virginia Dunham 

It was extremely disconcerting to be forced to use this so-called “new improvement” to Ancestry.Com. At least in the past those who wished to stay with the “no frills, no bells” approach to researching were given that option. I think it would be very nice if you would reconsider and once again allow people who are paying you have that option to remain with a more consise and less time-consuming option of search methods. It was so much more easier and clearer to enter a name, hit search and be taken to ONE page where all of the possible catagories were listed in a very organized manner so someone with limited time but a great desire to pursue genealogy research could click thru and analyze the results.

July 2, 2008 at 6:43 pm
Wendy 

HORRID HORRID HORRID HORRID HORRID!

GET RID of this new ridiculous interface ASAP!

It is BEYOND

HORRID!

Wendy

July 2, 2008 at 8:23 pm
Nancy Rogers 

Please stop taking our dollars and using them to make changes in the interface, use the money to fix the search engine, and on that note please return to the days of being a resource for genealogical data basis. I do not need you to help build my genealogical data base, I can do that on my own, thank you very much. After reading all these notes and seeing how much trouble people are having with the new search page when they have submitted their family trees to TGN I am very glad that I never did submit mine. At least I don’t have to go through that.

July 2, 2008 at 9:14 pm
Jade 

Kendall,

It is good to hear that you are listening to users.

The new search skin on the old search engine now has a number of cumbersome workarounds for the extant search engine.

It would be a most convenient workaround if the search results were truly sortable: by name, by state and country, by date. That would enable not having to work through pages and pages of wrong results, since the search engine disregards search factors. The present computer program’s conception of sorting by ‘relevance’ is quite ridiculous.

Another approach would be to make the new skin boolean, allowing user-entered exclusionary terms. For example, for John Black who d. in 1875 in WV, I could enter these exclusionary terms: 1930, 1920, 1910, 1900, 1880, “World War”, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, England, Wales . . . and possibly a few others, thus easily excluding the erroneous useless junk typically retrieved by the search engine. The feature should allow 20 or more user-entered exclusionaries. The advanced search mode on eBay would be a good model. And it works very well, quickly searching, retrieving and listing items from millions of web pages.

This second approach would be much more useful than your trying to tweak the semantic interpretations of the search engine.

There is a lot of GIGO built into the present search engine functioning. Such as the one you note, including the England & Wales vital records for a search that mentioned only West Virginia. Or search results that include other Counties by the same name (e.g., Marion Co, Indiana when the target is Marion Co, WV). These erroneous search results stem from the programmer’s thinking the searcher is ill-informed and that the searcher doesn’t really mean the search terms entered. Cancel these thoughts in all future programming. When I enter a specific place I really do mean that place, not another with a similar name — and certainly not an entirely different country. If I want to broaden the search I will do so.

July 3, 2008 at 7:45 am
Athena 

“According to our research, over 75% of the people who have tried it out think that it is at least as good as the old search experience, and over 50% think that it is significantly better than the old search experience”

I’m not sure how to evaluate that. If your research tools were anything like the current “survey” that doesn’t give the users a single opportunity to indicate what they do not like, there’s not much point in posting numbers.

“This has to do with the way the search engine works–it basically looks for any possible match that might be for your ancestor.”

Why then, doesn’t list results based on what the user actually input?

“Now it’s unlikely that a death in 1861 was mistranscribed and should have been 1961, but it is possible. Thus, the engine will return the match if other elements of the record look similar to the search criteria even if something looks wrong, just in case the input data was incorrect

Sorry, that explanation doesn’t wash. If someone inputs birth 1782 and death 1861, there is absolutely no point in displaying the 1930 census as the first item on the results list …NONE. I just tried it again and got the same results. This is a waste of my time.

Now, if I want to get only results that closely match the death date, for example, I can simply click on “Advanced” in the new search system, open the death information and click the “Exact” checkbox for the death year

Why do I have to do that to avoid having the 20th century results listed at the top of the list?

There is of couse a problem here with the Ancestry definition of “exact” — it’s not really exact, it’s within “x” years.

More importantly, why can’t I default to the “advanced” search. Why am I forced into always having to do more clicking just to get started?

July 3, 2008 at 7:47 am
roccasecca 

Type your comment here.

July 3, 2008 at 10:58 am
Jerry Bryan 

Well, I just posted some pretty strong negative comments about the new home page. I don’t want to repeat them all here. I will just say the following:

1. The new home page and the new search are both awful. Until I found this particular blog I didn’t quite realize that the new home page and the new search could be thought of as separate issues. So a lot of the negative comments I posted about the new home page were really negative comments about the new search. As separate issues, I can live with the new home page. It’s awful and I hate it, but I can live with it. I can’t live with the new search.

2. In reading between the lines of many of the posts in this particular blog, it appears to me that much of the effort that ancestry.com has put into the new search has to do with searches that are not exact. ancestry.com is trying to create a vary smart artificial intelligence search engine for fuzzy searches. Well, I use exact searches about 99% of the time. I don’t like the fuzzy searches from the old search system very much, either. I do use them, but only when I’m pretty desperate. Fuzzy searches usually don’t help me much when I try them, but sometimes they do. Having realized that much of the hullabaloo over the new search is perhaps about fuzzy searches, I’m thinking I might be willing to reconsider and give “new search” another shot with the following caveat. I must be able to keep doing exact searches the old way. There’s a mention in this thread about bugs in the new search associated with exact searches. And I’ve seen numerous such bugs myself in trying to use the new search for exact searches. But the problems with exact searches in the new search go way beyond bugs. ancestry can fix all the bugs in exact searches they want, and the new interface is still awful for exact searches. With exact searches, the responses have to come back just like before, organized by database and database category. Responses simply can’t come back like they do with fuzzy searches as one long ranked list of items and still be useful.

3. Like many others, I simply do not find ancestry.com’s survey results to be even remotely credible. The survey questions I have taken from ancestry.com were “push questions” that push you into giving the answers ancestry wants to hear, and do not give you an opportunity to say what you really want to say. But even having said that, ancestry’s own (probably invalid) numbers suggest that 25% of the customers think the new web site and new search are worse than before. That’s really a lot. Does ancestry.com really want 25% of their customer base be angry at them and cancelling their subscriptions? Surely not.

4. I wish there were a way adequately to convey to ancestry.com how bad the changes really are and in a way that they would really understand. I don’t think they truly understand what we are saying. I do believe that ancestry.com consists of good people who are sincere in their belief that they are making improvements. Their responses suggest that they are really mystified by all this uproar. Instead of using surveys so much, I think ancestry needs to sit down with some serious, experienced researchers and just watch as said researchers do some real research. It would be very enlightening. They would find researchers doing mostly exact searches. They would find researchers working primarily in particular databases for extended periods of time rather than just looking for a particular person (all the marriages for a particular surname in xyz county, all the deaths for a particular surname in abc county, etc.).

5. I would suggest the following. New search would probably be redeemable and probably could be better than the old search if it could be thought of as being strictly a replacement for fuzzy searches rather than as being a replacement also for exact searches. DON’T TOUCH THE INTERFACE FOR EXACT SEARCHES!!! I wish the interface hadn’t been touched at all (neither for exact or for fuzzy searches), and that all programming effort had been put into the search engine intead. The new home page is really not redeemable. The only real fix that’s acceptable is to push the myancestry junk back onto the myancestry tab. Or better yet, let me configure my home page myself and I will push all that myancestry junk back onto the my ancestry tab. But failing that, just don’t take the Search tab away from me.

July 3, 2008 at 1:17 pm
Jim 

Jerry,

There is a dropdown at the top of the search results that gives you the results summarized by category instead of sorted by relevance.

July 3, 2008 at 1:36 pm
Jerry Murdock 

I am no programmer, but I have worked with databases and search engines for a long time. I have never seen such a lame excuse for a search engine as this one. A couple of notes about the hints and workarounds that I have seen here:
1. If I specify a birth date of 1802 +/- 5 years & check “exact match”, all records that do not indicate a birth date are excluded. What SHOULD be excluded are records prior to 1797. Records that DO include a birth date should be limited to those in the input range
2. If I specify a death date of 1882 +/- 5 years & check “exact match”, all records that do not indicate a death date are excluded. What SHOULD be excluded are records AFTER 1887. Records that DO give a death date should be limited to those in the input range.
3. I have yet to identify ANY ancestors outside the continental US. I often get tons of British census records having NOTHING to do with my family, but if I say residence “USA” I get NOTHING. It appears that ONLY records having the residence as “USA” with no further location get through, and that my only solution is to filter by all the possible locations my ancestors may have passed through. I KNOW it would be a simple matter to allow delimiting by country withour further specification.

Since I have been using Ancestry.com, I have filled out dozens of surveys. In each, I have tried to make the point that having the finest collection of databases of genealogical information is useless if there is no way to FIND the information needed.

Several months ago I did a search on my great Grandfather Harris Sanders Murdock, born GA 1839 – died TX 1922. Apparently because I entered his full name, it cycled through every full name Murdock & all the Soundex similar names (including Mauritzen, Mertz, & Miertschin) before it came back and started with initials. It finally came to H.S. Murdock on the 42nd page of hits. That is NOT my idea of a search engine.

Bottom line – you should be able to start with a window of time and geographic limits and THEN input personal data to select records . DON’T try to help by telling me that the person I KNOW died in Texas in 1850 may have been in Nottinghamshire for the 1881 census

July 3, 2008 at 2:11 pm
Jim 

Jerry,

Your idea of exact with a date range does not match my expectation. If I select exact birthdate on 1802 +/-5, I expect to see only records with a birthdate between 1797 and 1807.

July 3, 2008 at 2:50 pm
Dan B 

Jerry (27) and Jim (28) are both right:

There are valid reasons for wanting to indicate “Give me *only* those records that specify a date in these ranges”.

There are also valid reasons for wanting to indicate “I want records that fall into this date range, but if no date is specified, let me see the record anyway.” This is a bit looser than what Jerry wrote, but (forgive the geek talk) it fits almost exactly the definition of an SQL OUTER JOIN. In other words, most database software (probably including the kind that Ancestry is using) *already* support something similar to Jerry’s case. Hence, for Ancestry to support this case is just a “small matter of programming” — that is, allowing the user to have a choice about including or excluding records where a specified field is empty.

Jerry’s request also adds a bit more intelligence to the search: If I asked for people born after 1890, then don’t give me records for people who *died* before then, whether or not the particular record contains a valid birth date. I’d like it if Ancestry’s search engine had this kind of smart filtering.

July 3, 2008 at 3:45 pm
Jerry Bryan 

“According to our research, over 75% of the people who have tried it out think that it is at least as good as the old search experience, and over 50% think that it is significantly better than the old search experience.”

Could at least one person who is actually able to use the new search interface successfully post something about their experience, how they are using the new interface, etc.?

It’s incomprehensible to me that anybody could possibly be using the new interface successfully. But ancestry.com says that 75% of users are happy. I would be pleased to be proven wrong, and I will be the first to admit it if I’m wrong. It would help if at least one of those 75% would post something – not just “I like it”, but go through some of the steps of how they are able to use the interface successfully.

And a question for ancestry.com itself: are any of your employees serious researchers when they are not at work? I’m not talking about users who upload and download buggy and unproven trees. I’m talking about users who do real research. If so, are your employees using the new interface successfully? And if so, could you all post some specific examples of how your employees who are researchers are using the interface successfully.

I sometimes teach classes in how to use ancestry.com, and I use real examples from my own family. I couldn’t possibly teach anybody to use the new interface because my examples don’t work with the new interface. Could you give us some real examples that do work?

July 3, 2008 at 6:28 pm
Jim 

I am using the new search 100%.

One trick that I use is to use the exact location field to only limit the search to the state level. I use the keyword (with exact) to narrow to specific counties or townships.

I have also found that it seems that sometimes when you overspecify the target for the given database, you either don’t always get exact results or you get no matches. That is, if you are specifying race for a database that does not have this as a field, you may not get the results you expect.

I use wildcards sometimes, but I wish that you did not have to supply 3 characters. Frankly, I do not understand this limitation since the engine is perfectly happy to output millions of fuzzy hits.

If have a more specific example, I will give it a try but I do not have access to the non-US data.

July 3, 2008 at 7:08 pm
Carole Payne 

Hey Everyone,
I’m really enjoying the new versions of this program. The data is much easier to find and your choice of the printing size is wonderful.
Having a hard time locating data without a last name. Can someone tell me if the hospitals (canton, OH) have any birth records for the years of 1925-1927? HELP!!! tHANKS

July 4, 2008 at 5:59 pm
Connie 

Fuzzy searches, provided they are decent fuzzy searches (not ones yielding hundreds or thousands of results), have their use, but most people with any research experience or common sense are going to do exact searches first THEN expand to looking at more nebulous results.

But your fuzzy searches can’t even return people named Lettie when you ask for Letitia, so what’s the use?

Let me give you one example of just how useless this new “improved” search is: try to search on Solomon Sigafoos, resided Iowa, in the bmd records. You will get no strong matches (none that are 3 stars or above).

Yet, there he is, died in Iowa in 1874, in the Iowa Cemetery records, same exact spelling.

When you do finally find him, he’s not even at the top of the list; first is someone named Solomon Thayer in Massachusetts records.

Something is seriously, seriously wrong. I just don’t get it.

July 4, 2008 at 10:18 pm
Jade 

Kendall,

You say

“The location fields in the new search do recognize counties. You can simply begin typing the county name and select it from the type-ahead list. For example, if I start typing “Utah” in the location field, the type-ahead listing gives me an option for “Utah, USA” (this would be the state), and the next option is “Utah, Utah, USA” (this is Utah County in Utah). Now if I type in “Payson” I get a choice for “Payson, Utah, USA” — that doesn’t mean that the county won’t be searched, it is just that we’re not displaying it in the limited space available in the search box. We still search on the county as well as the city. I hope this clarification helps.”

What you outline above is a major FLAW in gedcom formatting – inabiity to recognize differentiation between a village, a township and a County.

If I type in “Marion Co., West Virginia” I get results for all places called Marion. It doesn’t matter whether I type in the ‘Co’ or extend it to ‘County’. I still get all Marions.

I want to specity the County and State and not get Marion, Illinois and Marion Co., Indiana and so forth.

In the case of Census records I want also to be able to specify Townships and Magisterial Districts where they are different from Towns. Thus: Mannington District, Marion Co., West Virginia. I do not want the results to limit to the town of Mannington. I do not want any other place named Mannington. I would also prefer it if your indexer had not misidentified some of the Mannington Dist. Census enumerations for 1870 as being within Union Independent (School) District, but that’s a different problem.

Your alleged type-ahead feature does not work at all for this. And it does’t work at all for census divisions that we know are specific Beat or Court District numbers.

So please, please eliminate using the very problematic gedcom formatting that does not recognize differentiating between County, Township, Borough, village, etc.

July 6, 2008 at 3:54 am
Ron 

I have mixed results using the old and new search ….and have to switch back and forth between the two. New search gives me what I want most of the time, but there are certain databases, i.e., Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941, where I find it impossible to find my ancestors when I try to do a surname and county search, select exact, etc., but still come up empty for surnames for the county I am search for. Switch to old search and find what I am looking for. I like new search, but there seems to be something missing in the searching of specific databases.

July 6, 2008 at 6:51 am
Karen 

Sometime in the past few weeks, I’ve lost the ability to modify/refine a search from the record display screen.

In the past, I could start a search from the main search screen, display details from the results list then initiate a new search of the same database from the detail record. This was a huge timesaver for me and it’s disappeared without notice. Why did this useful option disappear?

Example: I search for Mary Mitchell, b. 1937 in California. When the results list appears I select an entry from the California Birth Index. In the past, I could then start a new search for her children using her maiden name and an approximate birthdate of 1957. That’s no longer possible. Now I have to click around looking for an entry point to the California Birth index.

The same thing was true for the census, now I have to display the image and click on the link for the year to get to the search dialog.

Overall, it was much easier to follow an individual or family before.

July 6, 2008 at 10:42 am
Jade 

Here is one reason for Development staff to be working on enhancing Fuzzy Search (the New Skin, a/k/a ‘New Search’):

Among many many such examples, there is no such place as the one called ‘Cogle, Harrison, West Virginia’ in the 1890 US Census Veteran’s Schedules.

It is EAGLE DISTRICT, Harrison County, West Virginia, and plainly written so.

I did not try an ‘exact search’ for Eagle District, so do not know if the modification to ‘Exact Search’ that has been done to make it FUZZIER would retrieve the desired pages (using Old Search rather than New Fuzzy Search). Maybe Kendall would like to try it.

July 6, 2008 at 11:49 am
Samuel Josovic 

Dear Kendall Hulet,

Could you please address the 2 points that I made in comment number 5. I have World Deluxe Membership since 2004.

Thank you

S. A. Josovic

July 7, 2008 at 5:16 am
Tony Cousins 

Jade,
I came across an absolutely horrendous example of the poor transcription and quality control over the weekend.

Looking for Thomas Varley and his family in Lancashire, England. I finally found him listed as Thomasv Arley – and all his family were listed as Arley. The image was perfectly clear as Thomas Varley.

On the new home page – rubbish, and I immediately click on the search tab. Ancestry is as others have stated not a facebook, or myspace – they only have to submit an e-mail address to join – we have to pay Ancestry – in my case over $300 just a week ago.

I suspect the vast majority of users are ardent researchers and, again like other comments, not interested in the flashy adverts on the site.

Sometimes the phrase of ‘if it isn’t broken – don’t fix it’ applies – it certainly does here TGN have broken what a lot of users once considered the premier site for serious Genealogical Research.

TonyC

July 7, 2008 at 9:52 am
Jade 

Mike’s response to “Ancestry Insider” summary of interview with Kendall Hulett is an excellent description of two main types of customers and how we interface with Ancestry.com, here:

http://ancestryinsider.blogspot.com/2008/07/inside-problems-of-ancestry-new-search.html#comment-7918644304683500209

July 9, 2008 at 5:06 am
ROXANN 

please please please give me back the old way…….. can’t find anything. totally upset and mad

July 9, 2008 at 1:17 pm
Nicole 

I resolved my stress and issues over spending money for access to a database of records in which I could no longer FIND anything quite simply. I canceled my subscription. No more getting frustrated at hundreds of pages of inaccurate results.

When Ancestry has a functioning search engine which returns relevant results which actually display data based on the search criteria I carefully typed in, I’ll be back. If the search engine works, I can put up with the annoying Playskool interface.

But if Kendall’s vision of requiring an uploaded family tree for the search to function comes to fruition, I’ll never be back. Ancestry doesn’t get to charge me for a service to upload data which they will then resell.

July 9, 2008 at 3:13 pm
Jade 

Bottom Line:

Please please please do not force serious genealogical researchers to use Fuzzy Search.

It is SO ill-suited to what I need to do as a paying subscriber.

July 10, 2008 at 1:12 pm
Judy Street 

GOOD ONE YOU GUYS: bought FTM & WORLD ANCESTRY cost $353. and I’m screwed because when I downloaded the FTM the next day I got an ERROR SIGNATURE regarding the condition of FTM2008 it has not been fixed and I’m not able to get into my FTM for 5 days. I’ve been on ancestry.ca and ancestry.com for 2 weeks and don’t like the new set-up the new search is crap..can’t even find out info on people from the late 1800′s. I’m real sorry I gave ancestry that amount of money as I know I’m not going to get $353. worth of info out of them…..

July 12, 2008 at 1:32 pm
Ron 

When I sign in at Ancestry dot com I now have some family Tree at the top that is of no interest to me. Some distant cousin sent me to some family information and now this “family tree” is cluttering up my start page. How do I get rid of the damn thing???

July 15, 2008 at 10:15 pm
Bonnie 

I am a paying customer and a serious genealogist who is absolutely ticked at the mess the “teenagers” now running Ancestry have made of the search page. I am not interested in socializing, I am not interested in your poorly designed search engines suggestions about “this person may match”. It is my considered opinion that you must have fired any the genalogists that worked for you and have hired flakes in their place. These flakes want to give us an “experience”. Serious researchers want to look at hard data and they want to narrow search at their pleasure, not have an experience. not as your search engine dictates. All this new engine with it’s multiple clicks to do anything is good for is creating millions of cases of carpel tunnel syndrome. If there is a lawyer in the house, he wouldn’t have much trouble scaring up a class action suit in a few years. WAIT… I know who is in charge of the new search engine and the survey’s too… YOU GUYS HIRED Microsoft Employees huh? You know, the ones who designed VISTA… land of endless clicks and power trips.

You are obviously trolling for the casual player at this point, the one who wants NOT to read the original documents and cross check them six ways from Sunday to make sure they are right, but instead, wants to trip through clicking and adding “LIKELY” matches to their tree so they can brag that they are connected to 29,000 people, including the crowned heads of Europe. PLUS, your silly computers will grab on to what is being researched and add it into “World Tree” as fact, when it was only part of research. Then people accept it and add it to their tree and all you do is muddy the water for serious researchers. Let people who want to play at genealogy do it somewhere else. OR HERE IS SOMETHING THAT MIGHT WORK… JUST LEAVE BOTH INTERFACES IN PLACE AND LET PEOPLE CHOOSE TO DEFAULT TO ONE OR THE OTHER.
Am I happy? NO.

July 17, 2008 at 9:14 pm
Barbara Gale 

I am not having any luck with the ancestry program. I want to find a program where I can find the names of homesteaders to the land we own in Cherry County, NE. Where can I search for this?

July 21, 2008 at 1:21 pm
Carol 

Why do I keep getting “Error in Processing Image Request”? It is so frustrating when I can’t see the census image,immigration image, or historical newspaper image.I have reported this before..and never received an explanation.

August 2, 2008 at 12:56 pm
john pattisson 

loking for family of virginia pattisson john pattisson paul pattisson sylvia

March 21, 2009 at 6:56 am