Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Search

Last summer Ancestry.com introduced a new but lesser known feature called “Smart Filtering”.  Smart Filtering is a technology that applies only when searching for someone in one of your trees.  When you search for someone in your tree, a lot more data becomes available to the search engine including life events (birth, marriage, death, etc…), family members (siblings, parents, spouse, children), and the key element for Smart Filtering to work – attached records.  Now when searching for someone in your tree, the search engine via Smart Filtering will exclude search results that definitely don’t match your person.

Ancestry.com customer blog described Smart Filtering like this:

We’re also introducing smart filtering, which lets you hide results from collections where you’ve already found an ancestor’s record.  Many collections like census or death records are likely to contain one record for a person.  When you search from your tree, this new feature filters out results from collections where you’ve already saved a record, making it easier to discover new records.  For example, if you’ve saved a 1920 census entry for someone in your tree, smart filtering will hide other 1920 census entries when you search from that person’s page.   Smart filtering can be easily turned on or off from the results page to show the full or filtered results list.  See more

Alarms may be going off for some of you reading this since the sound of automatically ruling out records sounds dangerous.  If you feel this way you can easily disable Smart Filtering as illustrated by this photo:

2014-05-23_1509

However, Smart Filtering has one the highest approval ratings we’ve seen on new features introduced in 2013, so you should give it a try.

What does Smart Filtering mean for search queries?

Smart Filtering will determine certain databases to exclude results from based on the records attached to the person in your tree you are searching for.  So, for example, if I click on the Smart Filtering link while searching for my great grandmother, then I see this:

smart_filtering_example

I know what many of you are thinking, so yes I’ll find and attach the 1940 Census record for her (first result on the search).  With that out of the way, you should find with this feature that many erroneous records are no longer in your way!

Implementation Challenges & Gotchas

Several teams were involved in making Smart Filtering happen at Ancestry.com and there were challenges and gotchas along the way.  One of these gotchas was ensuring that any database used for Smart Filtering be carefully screened such that you can guarantee that once a record is attached to a person that no other value can be gleamed from that database.  The screening process at Ancestry.com is excellent, but it should be noted that there are exceptional circumstances where a census has more than one record for the same person.  This can happen, for example, if a person is recorded in the census and then shortly after moves to a different residence (sometimes in the same town) and is recorded again at their new residence.   In rare scenarios like these, Smart Filtering can exclude a possible match as it relies on the assumption that only one record match is possible within the set of databases that are Smart Filtering enabled.

On the technical side, smart filtering was challenging due to high volumes of data that change frequently as ancestral tree data changes.

Use It!

Try more Tree Searches on Ancestry.com and use Smart Filtering.

About Sam Smith

Sam Smith is a Senior Software Engineer at Ancestry.com, where his team builds and maintains the search user interface. In the past, he was the lead developer for the "iPB-Nexus" and "Stomp Shop" iOS apps, built a centralized security management console called the Symantec Protection Center, and worked for a video banking company on a product called the Personal Teller Machine. He received his B.S. of Computer Science degree from BYU in 2007.


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