Thursday, December 17, 2009's New Database Browse Features

What do you do when you cannot find your target person or family in the US Census Records? You know, after you have used all of the name variations you can think of, used wild cards, used location, birth place and birth year (with a year range), spouse's name, first name only, no name, etc. I don't know about you, but by this time, I'm terribly frustrated. What's next? Scroll through the census one page at a time.

Back in the day, we would scroll slowly and carefully through the microfilm on the microfilm reader.

Until today, users could browse's collections by specific locality (state, county and township for the census) by clicking on the state at the bottom of the web page for the specific database. I doubt that I ever used that feature because it was at the bottom of the page.

Now, has made it a lot easier for us to browse through records for a specific locality (e.g., state, county and township - and Enumeration District in cities - in census records). Anne Mitchell wrote her post Improved Data Collection Search Pages to describe what they have done to help researchers browse through the census pages.

In fact, says they have added this feature to all of their databases. I checked several other databases and the new "Browse This Collection" feature is there.

Here is my look at the process, with a nice little surprise at the end. From my home page, I like to click on the specific year of the census (note that I have customized my home page so that the Census Records are right up at the top of the page):

I clicked on the 1850 US Census link and saw the new census collections page (two screens below):

The large search box is on the left, just like before - note that I use the Advanced Search form where I can check or uncheck the "Exact Search" boxes).

On the right side of the screen is the new feature - the "Browse This Collection" box. There are dropdown selection boxes in this box for State, County , Township and Enumeration district (when available), as shown below for Windham County, Connecticut:

I wanted to browse through Killingly, Windham County, Connecticut, so I chose "Killingly" from the list and the first Page of the census for Killingly came up:

I can navigate this census for Killingly by clicking on the small left and right arrows on the right of the header, just above the actual census record, and to the right of the "Go" link. If I wanted to jump to a certain page, I could click in the field for the page number, type in a page number and click on the "Go" link.

In my opinion, has made this as easy as possible to browse through the indexed and digitized records.

Now for the "little surprise" I mentioned (it may have been there all along...I don't recall seeing it). There is a link at the bottom of the "Browse This Collection" area for "More Help" and a link there for "View a sampling of handwriting examples", which brings up a box:

Isn't that cool? There are four or five handwriting examples for each letter (two upper case, two or three lower case). Of course, it doesn't cover every enumerator's handwriting vagaries and idiosyncrasies, but it's a decent set of examples.


Whitney McKim said...

Very interesting! I used the old "browse census" feature all the time. I'll be the first to admit that it was terribly hidden and hard to navigate to. It seems like all my relatives are "hiding" and I found most of them through browsing alone! (We aren't easily indexed apparently).

Thanks for the tutorial, I'll have to check out the new featuers!

Geolover said...

Randy, you say,

"In fact, says they have added this feature to all of their databases. I checked several other databases and the new "Browse This Collection" feature is there."

Whether they said this or not, it is not true.

For example, in "New Search" go to the Card Catalog and search for West Virginia Cemetery Readings, 1941.

A search page comes up for it with no way to browse the listings.

Matter of fact, before very recently there was a New Search item on the search page for this collection that allowed you to select which cemetery you were interested in. This has been removed. The drop-down list that used to be there omitted some of the cemeteries, but at least using it one could get all of the listings for some of them. No more.