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Ancestry Search: Name and Place Filters coming to New Advanced Search this week!

Posted by Anne Gillespie Mitchell on April 20, 2010 in Searching for Records

This year one of the things we are focusing on is adding new ways for you to control what’s returned in your search results. Over the past few months, we have already launched improvements to wildcards, Collection Filters, and Record Type Filters

Earlier today Tony Macklin announced that we will be launching a tour to give you a preview of changes to Ancestry.com search.

One of the features that has been most requested is the ability to better control what appears in your search results, by filtering out names and places that don’t match your query – giving you the same kind of control as exact, but allowing you to choose what variations are included in your results.

In this post, I will preview how name filters will work.

Where you will find them

The name filters will be available to you in new search when you are in the advanced mode. Where you currently see the “Exact” checkbox on the current form:

On any search form with a first and last name search box, you will see:

“Use default settings” will work like have no check next to “Exact only”

If you usually check “Exact only”,

you will instead see:

“Restrict to exact” works just the same as “Exact only”

Use default settings

Unless you usually use “Exact Matches Only” you will see Use default settings. What exactly happens when you use default settings?

First, we look through every first name we have recorded in our more than 29,000 data collections, and pull out any record where the first name is:

  • Exactly what you typed
  • A first name which has a similar meaning or spelling as the one you typed
  • An initial. For example if you are searching for John we will include records that have a J recorded as a first name.

Then, we look through all the records, and we pull out any record where the last name is:

  • Exactly what you typed in
  • A last name which has a similar meaning or spelling as the one you type in
  • A last name with the same soundex encoding as the one you typed in

We add all these lists to a list of records that contain any record that has at least one match for the data that you’ve given to us. Then we evaluate all the records against all the information you entered, and then order those based on how well they matched.

There is nothing new here, this is how ranked search has always worked. And if you wanted more control over what name variations you wanted to see in your search results, you could choose exact.

With these new name filters, we are going to give you a few more options that will allow you to control what you see in your search results.

Now you can request exactly which records you want us to return in your results. If you only want to look at people who have the exact same name as the one you typed in and people with the same first initial, you can request that. If you only want to see last names that match exactly or soundex variations, you can choose that.

Here are your options.

First Name Filters

  • Exact Matches: Records that contain a first name that is exactly what you typed in will appear in your results.
  • Phonetic Variations: There are other name matching algorithms that we can use to help identify records to consider for your results. If you choose phonetic, we will identify appropriate algorithms that apply to specific data collections and if a record has one of those names, we will use it as a possible record for your results set.
  • Similar Variations: There are alternates and spelling variations that are commonly used, such as Will for William. If you choose this option we will look for records with these alternates and consider them as possible results for you to look at.
  • Initial Variations: Sometimes in records our ancestors were identified with just their first initials, or the initials of their given and middle names. By including this option, you allow us to examine and possibly include records that just have initials in the first name. So if you enter Mary, we will look at records that have M as the first name.

Last Name Filters

  • Exact Matches: If a record contains a last name that is exactly what you typed in, that result will appear in your results if other fields in the record also match.
  • Phonetic Variations: There are other name matching algorithms that we can use to help identify records to consider for your results. If you choose phonetic, we will identify appropriate algorithms that apply to specific data collections and if a record has one of those names, we will use it as a possible record for your results set.
  • Soundex Variations: Soundex is a common algorithm used to generate alternate spellings of a surname. If you choose this option, any record that contains one of the soundex variations for a surname might appear in your results if other fields match as well.
  • Similar Variations: There are alternates and spelling variations that are commonly used such as Hashe for Hash. If you choose this option we will loo for records with these alternated and consider them as possible results for you to look at.

Sticky, sticky, sticky

When you choose a filter set for either the first name and the last name or both, they stay sticky meaning that when you come back to the form, they are still set in that same state. So once you find a set of filters you feel comfortable, you will not need to reset them each time.

When can I try them?

Remember these filters will be available sometime this Thursday. You will only see them in new search when you are in advanced mode.

Happy Searching!

Anne

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.

11 comments

Comments
1 Rene King ThompsonApril 20, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Will they be doing this with locations as well?

It’s frustrating when you don’t know the town but know the county? I almost wish Ancestry and FTM would separate locations into city, county state and country.

2 Ron LankshearApril 20, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Anne This sounds good
I assume ticking Default means include all items below OR does it add something else?

It will be good to see Phonetic hits as well as Soundex so we can work out which better fits wanted name

And I do like being about to find an initial without having to do an extra search. And also picking up names like Will – will that include Wm (I think Ancestry does that now) and also the J names have various such as Jos Jas Jho – could the “formula” or table be published in help. Will “Ann” if the option ticked pick up Hannah and Anne. And Frances find Fanny (so many people don’t know that alternate)

3 Anne MitchellApril 21, 2010 at 10:11 am

Rene, we will also be launching Place Filters tomorrow…hopefully it will help! Look for a blog post shortly.

Ron, default for first name will include exact, initials and similar. Default for last name will include exact, soundex and similar.

If you choose to use the filters, then you can choose to include or exclude whatever you like.

Anne

4 Penny HoltApril 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm

This is a good improvement. I’m looking forward to it. Two questions, please:
1. I’m working on a person now where it is the first initial of the last name that I can’t figure out. Will I check ‘exact’ and use a ‘?’wildcard?

2. (And this is my biggest beef with the search) Concerning birth and death dates; If I know a birth date and put it in but no death date, why, oh why do I get results of individuals who were alive and kicking some 150 years later and more? This happens regardless of whether or not I’ve checked ‘exact’. How can I restrict the search to the person’s reasonable life span? Are you going to fix that one, please?

Thanks

5 Jay KayApril 21, 2010 at 12:37 pm

But what have you done with the ordinary “old” search? Which fails completely to find almost anything. This is not an improvement.
Searching for Fred* born Kent living Kent brings up such a mish-mash of results that it’s meaningless.

6 BekkoApril 22, 2010 at 2:23 am

#5 Jay Kay

It seems to be just the 1851 UK census (using old EXACT search) throwing up results which are absolute rubbish, with no correlation to the search terms whatsoever.

The most infuriating thing is that it usually takes Ancestry some days/weeks to fix these stupid ‘improvements.’

Yet again … sigh!

[...] I told you about our name filters which is one of our new filters we are launching to help you create better searches. Today, [...]

8 Anne MitchellApril 22, 2010 at 11:15 am

We are aware of the 1851 UK census problem, and we believe it has now been fixed.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

9 Randy SeaverApril 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Name filters look good to me…blogged about it on http://www.Geneamusings.com. Need to test some of my more complex surnames, though.

Need to do more place name searches though to see if you’ve fixed my issue from months ago.

10 Jay KayApril 23, 2010 at 10:25 am

1851 search problem – solved. Thank you.
Please bring your magic touch to the death index search results (England & Wales 1916-2005): The results do not show the quarter of the event, and neither does the individual record. This can only be seen by looking at the original image – or even just the directory entry at the top.
Mentioned at Olympia London Who Do You Think You Are earlier this year, but still not working quite correctly.
Grateful thanks.
Jay

11 Pat JohnsonApril 29, 2010 at 6:33 pm

I agree with Jay Kay! This is NOT an improvement! Why do we always have to fix things that are not broken. I used to search for a name,county abd state–not anymore and the 1930 Census is impossible! Please let us have the old filter back–at least for the U.S.

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