Thanks… And a Bit More on Ranked Search

Lupines from Juliana's GardenWow! Thanks to everyone for the kind words about the new blog and newsletter! I’ve been overwhelmed by your amazing response. We’ve still got a few kinks to work out and it’s been interesting trying to adjust to the new schedule, but we’re getting there.

Since there’s been quite a bit of discussion about Ranked Search, I thought I’d post some observations from my experience. When Ranked Search first came out, I wasn’t very interested. I got on quite well with the Exact Search, so while I did play around with it a bit and made a few finds, I tended to stay with the Exact Search.

I have, however, gained a bit more respect for the Ranked Search as of late. A while back, I thought I’d tackle one of my brick wall lines. I entered the name of one ancestor, who continues to bewilder me.  (He’s been a brick wall for the past ten years and thanks to his penchant for giving every record keeper he met a different age, we can only estimate that he was born sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s in England. (At least he was fairly consistent with that!) We know of no siblings or other family members.

Anyway, I tried several Ranked Searches for both him and his wife. While I only located a few possibilities, I did come away with this:

  • I found results in databases I wouldn’t have thought to check, and although they are not exact matches, several bear further scrutiny.
  • I uncovered variant spellings I hadn’t thought of before. I found his wife living with a daughter and her family. I had previously been unable to locate this entry because of a misspelling. 
  • Last, but perhaps most importantly, it caused me to reevaluate information I had and the theories had formed around it. The first census entry we have that could be the couple is in 1860, but his date of birth is so far off from other dates, that I have always wondered if this was really them. Their estimated immigration dates were off by about six years, but this information is from their death certificates. Since they were dead, clearly they weren’t supplying the information, and so this information is quite possibly wrong on one or both. He was from England, she from Ireland. The initial assumption was that they were married here. When I saw UK census records come up unexpectedly in a ranked search for her, it reminded me of the possibility that perhaps, she had emigrated to England and they had married there before coming to the U.S. I also noted quite a few UK census entries for his surname listed Ireland as place of birth. Perhaps he had gone to Ireland where they were married and then moved on to the U.S.

Proving or disproving any possibility will require more research, but it generated thought and new ideas and that is very helpful in my book!

Once things settle down with the transition and I’m able to get back to serious research again, I do plan on revisiting the Ranked Search for other ancestors. The Exact Search will most likely be my first choice when searching specific databases, and probably where I start out in searching for an ancestor. However, using them both will allow me to cover more ground and perform more effective research. When one tool fails, it’s really nice to have an alternative.

One last tip–if you’re being overwhelmed with results, use the stars. As George mentioned, there is a drop-down box at the top of the results page. If you’re seeing too many results, whittle it down by requiring more stars.

If you don’t see any results, add more information. With one search I performed looking for 4 stars or better, I only had two hits. When I added a birth place, I ended up with 4 hits, one of which was the person for whom I was searching.

Looking forward to next week. . .
In next week’s Ancestry Weekly Journal, I’ll be following up George’s article on Ranked Search with some tips on using the Exact Search and Paula will be writing about some lesser used church records that can contain helpful information. And of course, we’ll have tips from you. Please don’t forget to keep those Quick Tips coming. You can email them to [email protected]

Have a good evening!

11 thoughts on “Thanks… And a Bit More on Ranked Search

  1. Is the Canadian 1891 census anywhere on-line??? 1881 and 1901 are available but I need 1891 to locate my Grandparents. Any suggestions??

  2. Thought you should know that your RSS feed for Family History Circle does not work. It currently displays:


    When I changed it to, I was able to subscribe via Bloglines.

    Also, I would move the RSS link to the top of the page, rather than the bottom. And be sure to mention the Blog url in Ancestry Weekly News. I’ve known this blog was coming for some time, but no one ever mentioned what the URL would be. I had to read about it in Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter!

    Anyway, I’m glad that Ancestry finally has a blog.

  3. I don’t think “tips” will help too much on ranked search. From the comments you can see that it’s fundamentally flawed. The sort program should be improved. A simple help would be to allow locking some variable(s) such as ‘state’ in the sort routine.

    Do theae comments ever get to the attention of management or programmers?

  4. Pingback: 24-7 Family History Circle » Using Exact Searches

  5. I am still looking for my great grandfather. I realize perhaps his name was spelled differently than I know it. I have tried Exact Search and Ranked Search and come up with nothing that coincides with what I know. It is very frustrating.

  6. I agree with Robert’s comments of March 29th regarding locking some variable fields when doing searches.

  7. Ranked search would be great if it could be customized a bit more. What I wish I could do is remove all census results or census results for a certain year once I had found the right one. That in itself would greatly decrease the “noise” of too many results. It seems that no matter what years you specify, you end up with a gazillion irrelevant census records. I suspect this is because there are so many of them in the database.

  8. I’ve been trying to look all over the site for this supposed blog for several weeks now. The only way I found it is to enter 24/7 Family History Circle in the Google search engine. I felt like a URL should have been on the e-mail newsletter for a few days to allow people time to find it.

  9. I do not understand all the complaints about the “Ranked Search;” I rarely find anything with the “Exact Search.” Whenever I use the “Exact Search,” most of the time it comes up with “not found.” Is everybody else’s family names always spelled like it is today, or never misspelled by the census taker, or incorrectly indexed by the census transcriber? Also, the Southern accent of all my ancestors were probably misunderstood by (maybe) Yankee census takers.

  10. Your new search engine is horrible!! We need more choices to narrow down the search – not see how many unrelevant names you can squeeze on a page. This is not only annoying to have to roll through so many names, it is a waste of time. This is also going to lead to more errors in lineages as newbies will see a name and forget that it doesn’t fit the time and place.

    When I tried using Ancestry this evening I got so upset and frustrated that I just quit. I have been an Ancestry member for many years and this change is so bad that I’m at a loss for polite words to express my displeasure!


  11. The ranked search is terrible! I get hundreds of names, and it ignores the state and county I specify! When I switch to exact search it says nothing found when I just saw hundreds of the same surname with the same spelling on the ranked search. It makes it nearly impossible to do a search in a reasonable amount of time. I used to have very good luck going directly to the census, and if not found under exact spelling the soundex would usually find it, NO LONGER! This needs to be corrected!

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