Ancestry.com

Answers to some search questions

In a comment on one my earlier posts, Jerry Bryan had this to say:

I wonder if we could prevail on Anne to give us an update on the big picture of New Search vs. Old Search, where she thinks it stands, what she thinks it would take to make New Search into a viable replacement for Old Search, etc. I’m obviously not privy to ancestry’s plans nor to their usage statistics, but here’s my take. I try to use New Search as much as practicable, and I probably use it maybe 1/3 of the time. New Search has some really good features, and ancestry has been responsive about fixing some of the most egregious problems with New Search. But New Search is still a pre-beta product. It isn’t even good enough yet for a limited public beta. Unless there are major improvements in New Search, and unless those major improvements appear extremely soon, then I think that Old Search needs to stay around at least two more years, maybe three. I think that’s a realistic timeframe to get New Search into good enough shape that it’s a viable product. But I suspect that ancestry has a much shorter timeframe in mind. Indeed, what if there were a serious stability issue with the site a month from now that led to the premature withdrawal of Old Search from service? That would be a true disaster.

I’d like to try and address some of his points and questions so that everyone knows where we stand and what is coming.

There is no time line on turning off the Old Search UI. While I think we can solve the Search UI issues in a shorter timeframe than 2 or 3 years, they have to resolved before we turn anything off. There are still things that you can do in the Old Search UI that you can’t do in the New Search UI. The issues we are debating internally is how do we get to the point we want to be at with search? And does one size really fit all?

So we are working in two areas to improve your search experience:

1) Algorithms. Sometime in February we will launch a change in the algorithm so that dates are filtered better. You know that situation where you have an ancestor who was born in 1800 and you see 1930 census results? (It sounds so easy to solve, and it is actually not easy. I’m going to do some posts in the coming weeks on how a search at ancestry works. It made my searching a lot more efficient once I understood it, and it will also give you some insight on why things happen the way they do.)

2) User Interface. There are some good things in both UI’s. I think the ability to choose what you want to be exact in the New UI and what you don’t is incredibly useful. And, ahem, you all have been more than clear on what you love about the old UI. We could continue to tweak this and tweak that. And that would make the New Search UI better, but we are stepping back, looking at both UI’s top to bottom and then we will proceed. And proceed carefully. Change for change sake is not the answer. Search has to help you, the searcher, find the right content and all the content that might imply. There are 27,000 data sets on the site. I know the stats on usage, and unfortunately a lot of them are not looked at that often. And there is a lot of good stuff out there.

And a quick note on the state/country pages. I said this in a comment on the other post, but I am looking for a solution to replace those with something other than the card catalog and in a matter of days.

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, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Finding Forgotten Stories.

34 comments

Comments
1 ConnieJanuary 20, 2009 at 3:52 pm

While I’m glad you will be working on a way to narrow dates, it has been nearly six months since I commented about the need to be able to search by locality. Instead of making that easier, your latest change appears to have made it harder!!

Hopefully, somewhere in there you will also be prioritizing a way to find people by locality.

There are three basics to genealogy: name, (at least an approximate) date, and (as specific as possible) place. That is (or should be) the first thing people are taught when they start trying to find their ancestors.

Without those 3 facts, it is impossible to do research, especially if one is dealing with a common name. (Most names are more common than we sometimes think…)

Your search engine, whatever it looks like, must be designed to address those 3 basics.

So far, Ancestry seems not to have figured this out???

2 JadeJanuary 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Anne,

Thank you very much for your comments on what you have been thinking about.

For one thing, I hear you loud and clear about the problems with date-bracketing. The sundry databases were not indexed with this in mind at all. And this does not work for most of the Old Search UI either, such as in Magazine and Newspaper databases supposedly filtered by State and date-brackets.

In your point #2, some of us clearly share your doubt as to whether “one size fits all,” with particular reference to those searching in and for Tree items vis-a-vis those wishing to search non-Tree databases.

Also in #2, many of us (perhaps most) would agree that the objective of being able to make specific search parameters exact would be beneficial. Unfortunately at present this feature does not really work. It appears to operate to exclude results that are actually pertinent, but not to exclude irrelevant ones. I am sure you are already aware that this is one of the more infuriating features of the New Search UI.

Overall I hope you will be able to dedicate time to exploring effective solutions.

3 Mary Beth MarchantJanuary 20, 2009 at 5:31 pm

As to your point about the state searches, I would certainly be happy with something besides the card catalogue which in my opinion is no option at all since returning 8000+ hits does not work for me at all.

4 Jerry BryanJanuary 20, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Much thanks for your comments. It’s very helpful to get a sense of where you all are headed.

5 Jim LivermoreJanuary 21, 2009 at 6:40 am

Will these new search algorithms be available through both search interfaces? Meaning, system wide?

6 Anne MitchellJanuary 21, 2009 at 7:04 am

Jim, in a word, yes.

Algorithm changes will be available in both UI’s.

7 David AlbrightJanuary 21, 2009 at 11:04 am

IS there away to merge files together.
I often end up with duplicates. WHen I go to remove them, I feel like I’m removing important records I have on the duplicate files. I’ve not been able to figure out how to merge two or more files for the same party.
Thank You.

8 Rachel R. HandlJanuary 21, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Help I have a desire to research my ancestry on my mothers side. I have never search anything. Nor am I real computer savie. I have very little information of my mothers heritage. She is alive but,will not nor has any intent on giving any information. I do not make a lot of money and am wondering if there are any free sites with simple instructions to follow. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank You Rachel

9 AnnieJanuary 21, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Anne,
I for one am looking forward to the explaination for how ‘Search’ works. It can be very frustrating when going through the ‘Resuls’ order. Sometimes the ancestor I am seeking is very deep in the ‘Results’ so I have to keep paging for that one elusive fact.
Everything in genealogy research is a process in learning & patience. We all want to get answers so that we can move on to the next item.
Thanks.

10 SherryJanuary 21, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Help, I am freaking, I entered an entire tree limb last night, husband spouse, children mother father – then this morning; I logged on and they are all gone. What happened? Is anyone elase experiencing this problem.

11 NanJanuary 22, 2009 at 6:31 am

When searching census records, I have been able to make corrections to names misspelled for ancestors. Should I wait until the corrections have been made to add the census records to my ancestors? Also in 1850 one ancestor’s first name was Milton, I thought it was Munson, there was a Munson and a Milton. The image was very hard to decipher, but I found them both in 1860, I tried to go back and make the correction, but a message appeared that Milton was already in the data base. But the last name is spelled wrong. Will it be corrected?

12 NanJanuary 22, 2009 at 6:40 am

Can anything be done about the 1840 census? especially for Greene County, NY. with last names spelled wrong it is very difficult to find ancestors. every other page has some different schedule??? and some pages don’t show up or they are all pushed to the left and no way to scroll up or down or left to right.

13 AngelaJanuary 22, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I have a question on searching a ancestor w/ no information. It seems I hit a stale mate and cannot get any further. I been trying every conceivable option I could think of. I have been I member for maybe 6 months. I do not use ancestry on a regular basics. Maybe because I have so much on my plate. Please help me get passed this brick wall so I could move to the next person. Your feedback is appreciated.

14 Arlene MilesJanuary 22, 2009 at 4:53 pm

I believe in taking little steps to create greatness.
The foundation seems to be on quicksand, everytime something is added it gets harder to arrive at simple results.
Instead of working from the top down, why don’t you try from the bottom up?
There are way too many databases in a list that needs a better sorting mechanism.
When columns of results appear, one should be able to further sort the information.
When a single record is viewed and one returns to the results page, it should return to the last page looked at , not the very beginning, eliminate all the scrolling, please,
Enough for now, I shall return.

15 NanJanuary 22, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Anne,
I use many of the data bases on this site, I go back and forth. I do search a lot more with the old search especially in the census records. Mostly because of the misspelling of names. I have had great luck with just first names and a place, but you have to know the state and county. (A road Atlas is handy for this) You can’t do that on the new search as easily.

16 Ron LankshearJanuary 22, 2009 at 8:28 pm

If you turn off Old Search how will we will use Wildcard to search Birth Location.

I have highlighted this problem since back when you started these blogs. Is it acknowledged as a problem? Will it be fixed?
Is anyone testing?

I just tested today.
name: Lankshear Birth place: Oxfordshire

Old search several hits and seems to be the same in new search.

Replace Oxfordshire with Oxfords* and same hits in Old but nothing in New.

Change place from county to Witney and expected 2 hits on 1881 census in old and new search. Change that to Wit* and old search finds them and New does not.

It is Vital to be able to use Wildcard in Birth place search as this is a free form field in census data and many spelling variations can occur for places and transcribers of your index are not always able to read the writing.

Please make sure Wildcard works across in New Search

Is there a list of Bugs that are known ?

17 TomJanuary 23, 2009 at 1:55 pm

It seems dishonest to pretend that the Old Search still exists. Yes, you can click on the state or its name, but what you retrieve is a complete mishmash of databases, some related to the state and many many many not related. The beauty of the Old Search was that you could “work” state specific databases for all they were worth. Now unless you remeber the exact name of the database you have to scroll through hundreds if not thousands. Your Catalog search seems to have a mind of its own. Put in Kentucky Birth* — sometimes you get the two databases, sometimes you are told that nothing matches your search. You have really debased access to your databases with the so called New Search — it appears to be a cousin to genealogy by free association.

18 Anne MitchellJanuary 23, 2009 at 2:01 pm

I think old search still exists, the part that has been removed is the interface.

That said, we are looking into how to bring the old interface back temporarily until we can find a suitable replacement.

19 Mary Beth MarchantJanuary 24, 2009 at 9:13 am

“I think old search still exists, the part that has been removed is the interface” says Ancestry Anne. Well, if it does, please tell me where in the world to find it so I can book mark that. No one can use the awful “search by location” anymore. Y’all have messed it up beyond belief. Getting 8000+ hits most of which are not related to that state is certainly not what I want. And by the way, my quick links disappeared two days ago. Is that part of the “new search” strategy too.

20 Jerry BryanJanuary 24, 2009 at 4:35 pm

I’m in the “New Search is not ready for prime time camp” about as much as anybody, so I thought I would post a New Search success story. My mother had a second cousin named Geraldine Hart, and the only information I had about Geraldine besides her name was that she married a Rarden. So with Old Search, I searched (exact) for Geraldine Rarden. There was one match that couldn’t be her.

The next step was to search (exact) for Geraldine Rard*. I found a likely candidate in the SSDI, a Geraldine Rardin in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia. Because Rardin is an uncommon surname, I repeated the search in the SSDI searching simply for surname Rard* and no given name in Prince Edward County, Virginia. This time two Rardins appeared, Geraldine and Melvin. Again because of the uncommon nature of the surname, the suspicion was that Melvin was Geraldine’s husband. This whole search process for Geraldine Hart’s husband is also helped out by the fact that neither Geraldine nor Melvin is a common given name like William or John or Elizabeth.

I did some additional searching with Old Search without success. For example, I couldn’t find a marriage record for Melvin and Geraldine. And by the way, I always source for “spousal” records like marriage and divorce records with Old Search. This is an area where New Search remains especially disfunctional because it so badly mixes and mangles first names with last names and the names of the two spouses between each other.

Failing to find anything else useful with Old Search, I decided to try New Search. And bingo, an exact search for Melvin Rard* found two extremely useful obituaries in Historical Newspapers, Birth, Marriage, & Death Announcements, 1851-2003 – namely obituaries for Melvin Rardin and for Roy C. Hart. The Roy Hart obit confirms that the Geraldine Hart that married Melvin Rardin was my mother’s second cousin.

There’s more to the story, but that’s the gist of it. I might mention that the old newspaper archives that ancestry has added to their database collection has been much maligned because there are so many false positives in the search. For example, a search for John Smith will find a page with John Anderson at the top of the page and William Smith at the bottom of the page. I lucked out because of the uncommon nature of the names I was looking for. There definitely does need to be a way to search for “John Smith” as a string or for things like “John near Smith”. Even though I lucked out, the newspaper collections will be of very limited value I think until this problem is solved.

21 Bob BrownJanuary 25, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I have been using the new search for a few months. I keep forgetting to flip back. Now I doubt that I ever will. I am using it with my family trees and I find it quite convenient.
R D Brown

22 John BradshawJanuary 25, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Is there a way to print out the descendants on New Search, ie father sons and their children. We can print the pedigree and that is very helpful, but the extended family the other way would be great.

23 ConnieJanuary 25, 2009 at 7:42 pm

When I have someone who seems not to be where he should be in the census, I try a first name and birth year search for a give locality and then check the last names for something that could be what I need. This wouldn’t work well for common names in big cities, but it does OK in lesser populated areas.

24 MargaretJanuary 25, 2009 at 9:23 pm

IF YOU DO NOT GET THIS PROBLEM FIXED WITH SEARCH –VERY QUICKLY, I WILL NOT RE-SUBSCRIBE. I HAVE BEEN ON THIS SITE FOR MANY YEARS– BUT ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and YOUR FEES HAVEN’T IMPROVED, BUT THE CONTENT IS SUCH THAT YOUR SEARCH ENGINE CANNOT FIND MUCH OF ANYTHING ANYMORE. I AM ABOUT DONE!

25 deloresdianeJanuary 25, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I am having trouble find my grandmother,on my mothers side,minnie k kelly,on mom birth record,on nella ham,her names is roberson,m charles wesley ham,on birth record he has only wess no other inf.he died jan 3 1954 in sheffield colbert county al minnie k died in chicago,cook county ilb june 20 1880-1883 as minnie feather 4 sons 2 daughter i put on my mother death her names as victery no other inf on her record, she was native american indians,how do i find the real minnie the wess that is buried in oakwood cemty.sherffield al, is not my grandfather,gggrandma name is merry madagline or maggie nothing elsa that you delores dianestafford

26 MerryAnne PiersonJanuary 26, 2009 at 4:37 am

I still like the old search better. I like to be able to narrow down the search by specific areas and dates and can’t seem to make the new search work for me.

27 Charlotte ReiterJanuary 26, 2009 at 7:21 am

I have been able to pick up more names on older censuses by using the town census by googling the request for a town census. Do you have anything like that? (I know you can’t return an answer). I found the willis family members in Wi.with propert numbers and the members living at each property. There were plenty of Willis’ Thank You Charlotte

28 Ben WoznickJanuary 26, 2009 at 2:37 pm

We do need much better control over the order of results. It is hard to tell what the algorithm is, and when you can quit looking for an hit. It would be especially nice to provide a clickable heading for each column, so you could reorder the results you would like to.

You can get rid of helpful remarks like “We didn’t find any good hits, but you might like these.” We all know that sometimes you don’t find anything helpful, and that sometimes semi-random results can be illuminating. This non-apology just takes up space on the screen.

Better methanisms for selecting databases would be helpful.

Site navigation, never good, seems to have deteriorated. The headings on the home page are obscure.

29 LaurieJanuary 26, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I am new to Ancestry (about 3 months) and did not even realize there was an old search. What frustrates me about the search I have been using (and I don’t know if the old search can do it) is that I can’t find some ancestors that I KNOW are there. I would like to be able to search just a certain county in 1850 for example. I had to use the card catalog and go to the correct county and the page through to find them – then I could not save that page to my tree from there. I also would like to be able to merge files. I have found some information, but it is so complicated to add new information to my tree in ancestry that I can’t update it there, but I don’t want to upload a new file because I have a lot of census pages saved to the one I have.

30 LaurieJanuary 26, 2009 at 2:42 pm

What I forgot to say in my previous post is that when I found the ancestor in the 1850 census by paging through the whole county, his name was spelled right and his age was right, so why didn’t he show up in the search? I actually seems more accurate to me to go to my local library and look up the soundex info and order the census.

31 Roland RichardsJanuary 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Where have I been?? What’s with this NEW & Old search? How does one know which is which? How does one get(find) either one?
Thanks, a computer dummie

32 seashelliJanuary 26, 2009 at 10:13 pm

I have using FTM for years and really enjoy it. I have gotten my husband involved and last year he picked up FTM 2008. Now he wants to get me the FTM 2009.

I have different trees going and the ones that have the French Canadians included seem to be somewhat of a problem. Some of the people have “dit” seperating thier last name (i.e. first name (Xxxxxxx) last name (FORTIN dit BELLEFONTAINE)), but the Index lists these people as (last name DIT BELLEFONTAINE FORTIN, first name (Xxxxxxx)). Is there a fix in the works for this or possibly have a box for the first name and one for the last name. One of my ancesters married an Indian and there is only one name. When I “Convert Names”, it makes thier name as though it is a last name.

33 RobertJanuary 28, 2009 at 7:32 am

Good Day Anne,

The folks in tech support suggested I drop you a note here about my search problem / s.

I spent several hours last evening reading the arguments about exact (Brings back many memories).

My problem is much simpler to define. The search results are “Wrong” the under lying reason should not be my concern nor should I have to “learn work around’”.

Here is my search request which was done on Jan 28th, 2009.

The result is the TOP result:

1. Search for BIRTH: 1888-1890 the Result is in
1892
2. Search for DEATH: 1957-1959 the result is 1911
3. Search for FAMILY MEMBERS: (Father) John Connor the result is Patrick O Connor
4. Search for FAMILY MEMBERS: (Mother) ellen Morgan the result is Mary Ann Cahill
5. Search for FAMILY MEMBERS: (Spouse) Otto Thum the result is George Fredrick Sale
6. Search for MARRIAGE: 1907, Denver, Denver, Colorado the result is 1914 Madras, India

No item in the found data matches an item in the search request. This is just “incorrect / wrong”

No matter all the esoteric issues discussed, many of which are valid I am sure the point here is quite simple. The result/s Ancestry provided were WRONG.

So per Susanne in Member Solutions

“Dear Robert,

We appreciate your message.

Let me refer you to our blogs. These are being monitored by our website developers and they can answers your questions better than I can.”

What must I do to get a correct search? I would appreciate a detailed matrix of what I must do to get a CORRECT search result.

Thanks so much for your time and help on this matter.

Good luck on your new job.

34 Anne MitchellJanuary 28, 2009 at 8:41 am

This blog posting is now closed for comments. My latest posting is:

State and country pages

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