Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reasons Why Ancestry.com's City Directories are Incomplete

I ranted yesterday about discovering that the www.Ancestry.com City Directories for the 1935 to 1945 period were incomplete.

Reader Geolover commented twice on my post, saying:

1) "As John's post would suggest, the gaps and omissions are numerous throughout the database - that is, in many if not most locations. Ancestry bought microfilms and imaged them as-found. Ancestry did not regroup the images by specific Directory (place, year-edition), so it is difficult to determine what is missing without the tedious browsing such as what you did."

2) "Here is a response, from an Ancestry.com manager, to items regarding missing parts of the Directories: Chris Lydiksen, Ancestry.com, Posted on: March 16, 2009 at 9:04 am.

"Regarding situations where the first image shown is not the first page of the city directory (or where the last image is not the last page), our source for these directories filmed them with multiple directories on a single roll, or single directories on multiple rolls. There are thousands more city directories to come and as we release them and piece all the partials together, these instances will diminish."

The Ancestry.com blog thread referred to is U.S. Content Update: 1880 Census Images, 1935-1945 City Directories, Improved Obituaries Collection & Iowa State Census Fix . Read the reader comments and the responses from Chris Lydiksen also.

The City Directories 1935-1945 release announcement says:

"Over 2,000 1935-1945 city directories were added today. This is the first installment of directories from this time period to this database. Hundreds more will be added in coming months."

The implication is that what was released is "most" of them. The later statement that "the directories were obtained from microfilm rolls that had more than one, or only part of one, city directory and that there are thousands more coming" comforts me somewhat.

Will the complete run of San Diego City Directories from 1935 to 1945 be included when this collection is finished? I hope so. If so, at least all of the names in the directories will be indexed. I guess "patience" is the watchword again... still.

In a perfect database world, each City Directory would be a separate database, complete from the front cover to the back cover, with all of the pages in between. It is difficult to move around any of these directories using the image numbers (which is the only way to go from page 397 to page 735 for instance), or to cite them as sources (title pages are hard to find!).

It would really help if there was more explanation in the Ancestry.com press releases and blog posts that highlight how complete a database release is, and point out that there might be "holes" in a locality's directory collection. Being upfront about the limitations of the content, indexing or images would reduce some of the anger and frustration in the user community.

Thank you to Geolover for the useful comments.

4 comments:

GrannyPam said...

This whole thing gives me a headache. When I go to the library with a list of people and a city, I check each year to find listings. I search them in order, year by year.

Right now, I cannot see how these databases are even a poor substitute for that. If I search it, and don't find my names, how would I even know what years I actually searched? Apparently the title of the database doesn't help.

I agree, the explanation with the database should show what the collection actually consists of. I don't think I will spend much time on the databases unless or until they are more complete.

Chris said...

On finding names in these city directories:
Ancestry extracts names, dates and places from free-text (OCR-captured typewritten text as with city directories, newspapers, books, etc.) When searching free-text databases on Ancestry.com, you can search just for extracted names using the names fields. However, only names that are included in our name dictionaries are extracted. Our name dictionary does not include every possible given name or surname in history. “Lydiksen” is not even included. This is done to minimize false hits on name searches. That said, there is a project to augment these dictionaries.

So, and many of you probably already know this, if you are not getting results using the name fields, try entering the name in the keyword field. That will search ALL captured text, including names, dates and places (this is how I found my grandparents in New Jersey directories).

One what directories are coming, yes, there are thousands still to come for a wide range of years. For the year range of 1935-45, there are still hundreds more to come.

On going to a particular directory title, that can be accomplished by going to the browse near the bottom of the database home page: http://content.ancestry.com/iexec/?htx=List&dbid=1540

Chris Lydiksen
U.S. Content
Ancestry.com

Geolover said...

Chris said:

"On going to a particular directory title, that can be accomplished by going to the browse near the bottom of the database home page"

The links are to a given microfilm roll's images, not to a specific Directory volume (place and edition), no matter how the microfilm was "titled".

Geolover said...

Chris Lydiksen announced that Ancestry.com has made an effort to group the City Directories by actual published volume. So the 'browse' list may indeed link to individual volumes, as he said above.

Chris did not say, on the Ancestry blog, why exactly they made this revision. I hope it was in response to customer outcry as well as to genealo-blogger comments.

There has been a recent trend to responsiveness to some customer complaints regarding databases. All to the good.