Note, for those who have been following the last comment thread: Yes, the exact search bug was fixed over the weekend, and the fix rolled live Saturday night. Which brings me to our next discussion.
Reed, who has commented a few times on my blog posts, has given us an example that wasn’t working too well last week, but with a few clicks we can make work this week. I’m going to use Levi as starting place to show you a few ways to use new search effectively.
So what do we know about Levi?
Name: Levi S Baker
Lived in: Chicago, Illinois
So I go to ancestry.com search homepage and begin (remember to click on the image to see a bigger version of the screen shot):
I’m starting off with exact off, to cast a wide net across all the documents on ancestry to see what I can find.
You’ll notice that I am using the place typeahead. You may type Chicago, Illinois out if you like. But notice all of the different choices for Chicago. If you just type Chicago, you may be confusing the search engine.
So I press the search button, and this is what I see:
I notice that there are 4,379,864 results. Huh? Either Levi is the most documented guy on the planet, or I need to find a way to rein the search engine in. So let’s rein it in.
I press r (just r, it’s a hot key), and I see:
I know Baker is his last name, so I choose that to be exact. And that didn’t really help. I know he was born in 1827, and I know lots of records have birth year, so I choose that to be exact. But I also know that birth year’s can vary, so I’m going to add a 5 year range:
Random note: I like to set up a 5 year range on either side because I have found that to be a common place where census takers and other record keepers make mistakes. Either that, or my ancestors didn’t like to tell the truth about their age.
Ok, that brings it down to 101,000 + records, and the first 4 or 5 records look like real matches, but what is all of this:
I notice that my first name is Levi S. The initial S is matching other S’s in the search results. Sometimes record keepers took a few shortcuts. Do you think if they had known how much grief this could cause us, they would have done it differently?
A quick look at my top results tells me that my guy was probably born in Vermont. So I add that to my search request:
and here are my top 5 search results, out of about 750 results.
I could choose more exactness throughout the query, or I can just think that this is OK and flip through 2 or 3 pages.
In this example, I used the exact checkboxes to limit my results and try and improve them. And that brings me to my questions for you:
- Places. What does an exact place mean to you? If I choose Chicago, Illinois, should a record be considered a match if the place is just Illinois? What about if it is in Cook, Illinois?
- Dates. If I say 1827 and choose exact, should it be only 1827 or would you include 1826 and 1828 because they are close enough?
- Names. If type in Levi and choose exact should that just match Levi? What about Levi S? Should it match L as well? What about derivatives or mispellings? Would you include Levy? What about Louis?
I expect these answers to vary from person to person. I’m hoping if we can come up with enough common themes, we can create better choices on the site.
About Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Product Manager at Ancestry.com. She is an active blogger on Ancestry.com and writes the Ancestry Anne column. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years. Anne holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.