Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Using Ancestry's "Learning Center" is Frustrating

One of the FREE parts of http://www.ancestry.com/ is the "Learning Center." Here you can browse or search through thousands of articles written by genealogy experts over the past 10 years or so. Richard Eastman, Juliana Smith, Michael John Neill, Kip Sperry, and others have articles in this compendium. These articles and research tips appeared in the Ancestry Daily or Weekly News, Ancestry Magazine, etc.

Due to the volume of articles, it is necessary to use the Search box to find something on your topic of interest.

However, the Search logic in the Learning Center does not work as I expected it to. It is very poor in its' present form. For instance:

* A search with two words results in more hits than with either of the words. For instance, a search for "20th" results in 158 hits. But a search for "20th century" results in 1,511 hits.

* Putting search words in quotes to find words next to each other (e.g. "20th century") results in the same number of hits as when you input the words without quotes.

Frankly, that renders the search pretty well useless, doesn't it? I will take the time to search the 158 hits (at least to see the titles of the articles) but there is no way I will look through 1,511 listings.

It appears that the default search criteria is OR, not AND or NOT. I tried putting in "20th AND century" and got more hits than "20th century."

There is also the Ancestry Library at http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/archive.aspx. Here the articles are broken down into categories. In the "How To" section, there are 103 pages of listings with 2,564 articles. There is a Search box here also, and you can choose to search by "Any Word" "Author" "Title" "Exact Phrase" "Free Text" etc. I tried all of those for "20th century" and got the same number of hits - 1,515! So that Search box doesn't work as advertised - they all work as if you requested "Free Text."

How frustrating! Too bad. This library archive is a marvelous resource. But the Search capability is badly broken. How can we get it fixed?

UPDATE 5/29, 10:30 PM: Miriam Midkiff has commented that you can Google search a specific web site. For instance, for the "20th century" exact search I wanted to perform, I should use ["20th century" site:http://www.ancestry.com/learn/ ] in the Google search box to search that particular web site (and all the pages associated with it).

I did that, and there were only 21 hits for "20th century" - that's more like it! I had heard that this could be done, but didn't think of it.

I think that this points up the fact that there is a wealth of knowledge in any genealogy community, and if members of that community are willing to take the time and help others, the benefit to all will be tremendous.

Thank you, Miriam!

UPDATE 5/30, 9 AM: Kathi at the Ancestor Search Blog suggested using the Google search string [ site:ancestry.com/learn/ 20th century ] to perform the search. She demonstrated the number of hits for each search word, the combinations, and added a few extra terms for good measure.

Thanks, Kathi! I keep learning things...

1 comment:

Miriam said...

While this won't solve Ancestry's problem, here's a tip that may help you: Go to Google and enter the following, exactly as typed, into the search box:

"20th century" site:http://www.ancestry.com/learn/

In other words, put your search terms in, then add a space, then write the word site, followed immediately by a colon and the full URL of the site or partial site you are searching (no spaces between site, the colon, and the URL).

I can't remember where I learned this tip; perhaps in one of our genealogy society's computer classes. It's so helpful for sites that don't have search engines.

Randy, when I did the above search, I came up with 21 hits. Does this help you out?