Thursday, July 15, 2010

New Features on New Search announced on Tuesday, in the Blog post Updated new search homepage, place pages, recent searches & recently viewed collections, by Laura Dansbury, that there are several new features when a user is using "New Search" (as opposed to "Old Search").

Laura explains the changes much better than I can, so please review her post.

The blog title could be construed to mean that the search feature on the Home Page (i.e., the "Home" tab) has been changed. It has not. What has changed is the "Search " tab page in "New Search." Here is what it looks like now:

And further down the web page:

There are several new features on the Search tab page, including:

* A link to "Old Search" for diehard Old Search users. This makes it very easy to go to "Old Search" if the user wishes. Before, the "Old Search" link was only on pages of matches resulting from a search.

* The "Recently viewed collections" at the top of the right-hand sidebar. This will be very useful, I think - when I come back to, I often can't recall what I did last. This helps.

* Maps are on the "Search" tab page - for USA, UK & Ireland, Europe, Canada and Australia (use the appropriate tab). If users wish to search for a specific locality (country or state/province), they can click on the entity in the map or click the link below the map. This will be very helpful, I think. This will provide a fairly easy way to find a specific database for a specific locality, and enable the user to browse that specific database (especially if it is not indexed...). I think that this feature will uncover a number of heretofore well-hidden databases in each state.

Users should click on the links to "View other..." or "View all..." on the State Place Page - there may be databases available that don't include the state name, but contain records pertaining to the state or one or more counties.

I clicked on California in the USA Map, and saw this "Place Page" summary of the databases available on specifically for California:

Note that the more general databases, like the US Federal Census Records, don't show on the list on the state "Place Page," but are included in the "View other..." or "View all..." links that provide collections that pertain to, but are not specifically for, the selected state.

For specific counties within a state, there is a selection box on the right of the "Place Page" where the user can see how many specific databases there are for each county, and can select a County from the list. I selected "San Francisco 36" on the County list, which means that San Francisco County has 36 specific databases on The "County Page" looks like this:

From this page, I can select any item on the specific County database list to either browse or search. I chose the "Daily Alta California (San Francisco)" newspaper with 61 records. Here is what the database page looks like:

Unfortunately, there are images of only a few editions of this newspaper in the database.

All of these updates to the Ancestry "New Search" "Search tab" page are useful to me as a researcher.

I've given three presentations about "Using Effectively" in the past two months, and have had to make significant changes to the presentation each time because of recent changes to the web site content and format. In my talk, one of my conclusions is that "'s 'New Search' capability is the most sophisticated and complex search algorithm in genealogy research." However, I also note that "New Search" has a steep learning curve - you have to practice quite a bit to learn how to use it effectively. Do you agree with me about this?

The question now is: What will update, or improve, next in their Search capabilities?

My question for my readers is: What improvements to "New Search" would you like to see?"
Disclosure: I am not an employee, contractor or affiliate of, and have received no remuneration for this article. I am a fully paid US Deluxe subscriber to


Tony Macklin said...

Hi Randy, we look forward to hearing the improvements your readers would most like.

PS for a sneak preview of what we currently have planned, we've put a tour of our plans up at We'd welcome any thoughts or feedback.


Tony Macklin
Director, Search

cheekygnome said...

There are so many ways to fine tune results that it is at the point that I feel like I'm being treated like a child by mommy Ancestry because mommy wants to make sure I get at least SOME kind of result instead of the ubiquitous "Your Search for returned zero good matches" response.

My chief complaint is with the excessive hand-holding. Do I really need to be told "A little more information will give you better results" when I only put a first and last name in the census search? I think most people are intelligent enough to realize that if you've got a dozen empty boxes on the search page that you'll probably get better results if you try to put in a little more information. Some given and family names I search for are rather unique or unusual so I often cast a broad net in census searches to see where people might be hiding. In fact I do it often enough that to continually get "A little more information will give you better results" as the very top result is becoming incredibly tiresome to the point that I feel like, by golly, Ancestry is doing everything they can to get me some good results so this must be my fault.

My second complaint is that when I enter a specific county and state in the location field (lived in, not born in) and it is set to DEFAULT on the options for the box I fully expect to get results limited to that county and state BY DEFAULT. What do I get instead? I get results from Maine, from Illinois, California and all points in between. Please tell me the logic in that. How is that logical behavior for a default setting? I can't even see any logic to the sorting of the results. They aren't sorted by name, home, age, or birth. To make matters worse, the county I specified isn't even given priority in the list. That said, I do like the option to include surrounding counties in the results. What I don't like is getting results from New Jersey when I enter North Carolina as the state because I always wonder if there's something on page 414 from North Carolina, but I ain't scrolling through 414 pages just to check.

My third complaint is that the settings I choose for the location search options aren't saved between searches, while it appears that they are being saved for the first and last names. Every time I visit the site I have to double check all four result tweak options to make sure I've got everything set right. Sometimes I forget that I have the surname search set a certain way and I start getting results that I don't want or I'm missing results that I should be seeing. While I can certainly see how these settings would be of benefit to those not completely familiar with how to search or even what they are searching for I still have to wonder how many people haven't even noticed the options are there and when they start getting results all over the country that must be incredibly frustrating. There are a lot of people out there who are afraid to start tweaking things because they are afraid they're going to mess something up.

With the exception of one brief period of time I've been a subscriber to for nearly 10 years. You used to be the first place I'd check for genealogy info, but that is rarely the case now. For the past couple of months I've been considering dropping my subscription, because I do have other options for the primary records that I use ancestry for. These constant "improvements" to your searches have become so bloated that I almost always get a sense of frustration as I click on in my bookmarks. As I start to plan ahead as to how I'm going to get all the options set for a specific search my frustration builds and then, fairly often now, I click your tab closed and move on to another site.

Maybe it's time to dumb things back down a notch.

Geolover said...

I would most like to see an end to putting Soundex search results in the list, in default mode. In both OldSearch and NewSearch, a Soundex search is an ~option~. I hate getting unrelated-name Soundex results equally-ranked with the surname I am actually looking for.

There are many reasons not to use the "exact" setting for names, but sometimes have to do this (and consequently miss some actual results due to spelling variants) just to avoid the hundreds or thousands of irrelevant and highly unwanted Soundex items.

This was put in place about 8 months ago, and was a big mistake.