Well, I’m back from a week away from the computer and wow, how things can change in such a short time. It was a week of changes at Ancestry.com and I made a few changes around the house. (I wrote a bit about the Ancestry.com changes this week on the blog).
While I was off, I cleaned out the basement. We had some storage issues that needed to be addressed so I hauled everything out and started going through things, sorting, tossing, combining, and generally putting things in better order.
When my husband came home from work I could tell by the look on his face he was none too pleased with my efforts thus far. I kept telling him to be patient–I had a vision! I was going to rearrange the furniture in his space and it would give him more room and solve some of our storage problems. He remained skeptical. (To be fair, he’s seen some of my visions that didn’t quite play out as well I’d hoped.)
My renovations had taken him by surprise, but by the end of the next day when he got home, he was thrilled with his new sanctuary. There were still some rough spots to be worked out, of course. He lost some shelf space near his desk that he liked and there was the logistics of where to plug things in, etc. It took some time, and as he notices things, he is still tweaking it a bit, but the bottom line is, once he gave it a chance, he found he really liked it.
I have been listening to a lot of discussion this week about the changes at Ancestry.com, and while there are some known issues, the folks at Ancestry are working on correcting them and tweaking the site, and more improvements are forthcoming.
The comparison between Ancestry and my little project, while it has its similarities, is really an uneven one. While there was some sorting to make things easier to find, it goes beyond just sorting the Christmas stuff from the Easter stuff from the Halloween stuff, etc. And the complications I had were not nearly as, well . . . complicated, as those faced by the folks at Ancestry. This was major stuff!
Let’s think about it for a minute. The collections at Ancestry.com have been growing for ten years. Ten years! Think back. If you had a computer ten years ago, what kind was it and what could it do? It was the day of the Zip drive (which wowed us at the time with its ability to store 100MB!), and Windows 95 was still new.
What kinds of databases were available then? Mainly indexes with few searchable fields. Compare that technology to the more flexible searching of more recent databases and their links to actual images. Most of us probably didn’t imagine it was possible to make the entire U.S. Federal Census (as well as much of the UK and parts of Canada) available for searching and viewing from the comfort of home.
Not only does Ancestry have to constantly update so that all the databases–old and new–“play nice” in the larger search environment of today, but they also have to have foresight and think ahead to emerging technologies and new data collections. This is a daunting task, to say the least, when you’re working with upwards of 23,000 databases.
Where’s My Keyword Search?
With changes comes adaptation. My husband has had to adapt to some of the changes I made and is faced with where to stash his beloved sunflower seeds and where to plug in all his equipment. (The seed problem was quickly solved, whereas we’re probably going to have to enlist the aid of an electrician to help us with the latter problem.)
We’re also going to have to adapt to the search changes, and truth be told, it really isn’t all that painful. Perhaps one of the most difficult changes on the search functionality was the loss of the keyword search and some other advanced functions on the main search pages. In speaking with some of the folks at Ancestry, I am told that the new advanced search page that is in the works will restore the missing search tools and add some new functionality as well.
But in fact, these tools are not really gone. The main searches will typically bring in more hits than you need, but once you locate a database of interest and are viewing the hits in a particular database, you have the ability to refine your search, typically in an advanced search template customized for searching the data within. These templates have always been more powerful and effective than the global search and for this reason it is the route I usually take anyway, bypassing the global search for the most part, and zeroing in on one database of interest.
How Do I Know What’s Available?
There are several ways to explore what databases are available for your area of interest and the new Card Catalog is a great place to start. I wrote about it a while back on the blogÂ and George Morgan also discussed it in his 18 June column.
The ability to browse by location is also still available. From the main search page,Â just select the location you are interested in from the list or map in the lower left portion of the page and browse through the lists of titles, which are arranged by record type.
Explore a Bit
One good thing that comes out of change, is that it forces us to shed old habits and take a fresh look around. I played around with all the searches and although I found that I still like my direct approach best, the main search brought some new things to my attention. I searched Photographs and Maps for Brooklyn and found some great photographs that are available from the Library of Congress Photo Collection. One showed a family in 1912 making brushes at home. (I posted this image with today’s quote. Click on the image to enlarge it.)Â Since an ancestor of mine was a brushmaker, I found this particularly interesting.Â The photo citation reads:
8 P.M. Farrell family, 151 Eleventh St., Brooklyn. (See schedule.) They had temporarily discontinued the brush making, but sent to a neighbor for materials and posed for me, just as they had been doing it. The little five year old on the right is very deft. Her eyes seemed to be troubling her. Boy on left is a neighbor who makes them too. The father complained of the little money there is in the work. Location: New York–Brooklyn, New York (State)
Another photograph from 1908 (click on the image to enlarge it) showed a group of newsboys, one of them with a cigarette in his mouth. It was particularly heart-wrenching for me as he looked to be about my daughter’s age.
The Historical Records search is a bit wider than it used to be when it comes to specifying a geographic location because, if for example you specify New York, it will pull up all of the hits for that name that even mention that location. For example, a search for James Kelly in New York turned up a James Kelly in Ohio Military Men, 1917-18, whose residence was Akron, Ohio. However, it also listed his birthplace as New York, N.Y.
Although you will see more hits than normal, it can also bring some hits to the surface that may have been overlooked because the location of the record wasn’t what you expected. With the launch of the new advanced search soon, the global search will be more powerful than before, and in the meantime, we may find that by shaking up things a bit, some unexpected gems may surface.
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Juliana Smith has been the editor of Ancestry.com newsletters for more than eight years and is author of The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book. She has written for Ancestry Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy,”rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e-mail at [email protected], but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.