Monday, February 23, 2009

Genealogy Search Engines: - Post 1: Basic Concepts

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

While performing this demonstration on, I evaluated the four Search criteria. The results for this search were:

* Exact search and/or Fuzzy search ("Fuzzy" meaning variations in names, dates and locations that might result in a match even if the record was enumerated or indexed poorly, e.g., Soundex). I found no way to test anything but Exact search parameters (other than using a Wild Card).

* Use of a specific database vs. many or all available databases. YES, this can be done, but only in the Advanced Search box, or after the initial search request.

* Use of Wild cards in names. YES, a wild card "*" can be used after one or more letters (e.g., I*, Is* or Isa* for Isaac).

* Use of dates and locations as search criteria. YES, this can be done in the Advanced Search box or after the initial search request.

This post starts the demonstration of finding the Isaac Seaver (born 1823 in Massachusetts) family in the 1860 US census using's Search user interface.

I do not have as much experience using as I do using, so I may have missed some of the more nuanced Search techniques during this demonstration and evaluation process. I have ever confidence that more experienced Footnote users will "help me" if I mess something up!

We start on the Home page with the information filled in the search box at the top of the screen (I input [Isaac Seaver 1823 Massachusetts] in the search box):

I clicked on the Search button (Click 1) and the results page said that I had 16 matches. I checked for the 1860 U.S. Census and did not see it listed:

The user can determine the databases for which records were found, so I clicked on the "Title or Collection" link on the left side - there were 9 matches from the Boston City Directories and 7 matches from Massachusetts Vital Records, but none from the 1860 US Census.

Why did it not find the 1860 United States Census for Isaac Seaver born in 1823 and residing in Massachusetts? I guessed that it was because the birth year didn't match the index. It turned out that Footnote indexed the Age and not the Birth Year! If I had asked for [isaac seaver 36 massachusetts] then it would have found him in the 1860 US census.

I went and found the description of the 1860 US Census database on Footnote. It said:

"Browse the 1860 US census by state, county, and civil division. This particular census is especially helpful in researching the Civil War era and the soldiers who fought in the imminent conflict. Information about each member of a household as of June 1, 1860, includes age, race, occupation, real and personal estate values, birth place, if married within the year, and if a person was deaf, dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict. Relationships are not detailed until the 1880 census."

Yep, "Age" not "birth year." If I had done my homework before barging into the Search, I might have saved some time. There's a good lesson here!

Some comments:

* I don't see any "how-to search" or "Search help" links that might provide clues as to how a new user of Footnote can search efficiently.

* Ever time I want to change Search parameters, I have to go back to the original Search screen (or the Advanced Search screen) and re-enter all of my Search parameters. The user can Add search parameters, but not delete or modify them during the Search process. My preference would be to keep the parameters in the Search box and let me modify or add to them.

The next post will look at the Advanced Search box and go all the way to finding the 1860 US Census entry for Isaac Seaver.

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