Monday, August 23, 2010

Exploring - Post 3: Using the Databases

The New England Historic Genealogical Society unveiled their new website last week - and I explored the Home Page and Explore page in Post 1, and the Massachusetts Vital Records to 1850 database in Post 2.

Today, I want to explore the Search fields a bit more and determine the best way to navigate around the site. I logged in as a member, so I could access more of the databases, and clicked on the "Advanced Search" link on the "Explore" menu. The Advanced Criteria"form looks like this:

There are fields for First Name, Last Name, Year Range, Category, Database, Record Type, Country, Province/Country/State, and City/Town. There is a checkbox above the Last Name field for Soundex. There are eleven Categories:

* Atlases, Maps and Reference Materials (2 databases)
* Census, Tax and Voter Lists (25 databases)
* Court, Land and Probate Records (22 databases)
* Diaries and Transcripts (7 databases)
* Genealogies, Biographies, Heraldry and Local Histories (42 databases)
* Immigration Records (5 databases)
* Journals, Periodicals and Articles (21 databases)
* Military Records (12 databases)
* Societies and Organizations (6 databases)
* Town Records (10 databases)
* Vital Records (including Bible, Cemetery, Church and SSDI) (about 200 databases)

If you choose one of the categories to limit your search, then you can choose "All" databases or select one of the databases in the Category (by clicking in the Database field), as shown below:

In the screen above, I chose the "Vital Records" category, and then selected the "Dedham MA: VRs, 1635 to 1845" Database, entered the Last Name = "Seaver." The Search screen looked like this:

Note that the the bottom of the Search field box is "Search Tips." The Search Tip for this database is that the user should "Search First Names in the Keyword Field." That works. However, if I search for First Name = William" and Last Name = "Seaver" in the Search box above, I do not receive any matches. So the Search Tip is right.

This is a Search Field nuance that is not obvious. I checked to see if a general search of all databases with First Name = "William" and Last Name = "Seaver" picks up this entry in the Dedham MA Vital Records. It should, but it doesn't.

When I did a Keyword search for "William Seaver Dedham" in the simple Search box on the Home Page and in the "Advanced Criteria" Search box, it found the Dedham MA records.
I clicked on the "Search" button, and received five matches in this one database:

In the first match, I clicked on the underlined link and saw:

As in Post 2, the screen that shows the document page can be manipulated to zoom or move around on the page, and the index for the page is shown below the image above (but the index does not seem to capture all entries on the selected page).

Down at the bottom of this Results page is a detailed description of the history of the source material that includes the specific record, and a source citation for the source material is included at the bottom of the web page.

In this case, the source citation was provided as:

Vital Records of Dedham, Mass. 1635-1845 (Online Database:, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2007), (The Record of Births, Marriages and Deaths, and Intentions of Marriage, in the Town of Dedham. Volumes 1 & 2. Editied by Don Gleason Hill, Dedham, MA, 1886)

Navigation within the Advanced Search pages has a learning curve. My navigation comments include:

* The "Search" key is "below the fold" on my computer screen - it should be placed near the top of the Search Box so that users don't have to scroll down to find it. The user can fill in some blanks and press the "Enter" key to initiate the search.
* When in the "Database Results" screen, the user can get back to the "Advanced Criteria" field by clicking on the "Advanced Options" button on the right side of the screen near the top. The "Back" button on the Internet Explorer menu doesn't seem to take you back to the "Advanced Search" screen - it should! If you click on the "Advanced Options" button, you have the "Advanced Criteria" fields filled with your last search entries.
* There is a "Save this Search" button on the top right line of the "Advanced Criteria" and "Database Results" screens - you have to specify a search name for the web page.
* There is a "New Search" button on the top right line of the "Advanced Criteria" and "Database Results" screens that provide you with blank search fields.
* When in the specific Results screen (with the page image, the index and the source data), the user can click on the "Back to Search Results" link above the page image field.

By far the most important Search tip is to be sure to read the Search Tips for specific databases. I would not trust a general search of all databases with a First Name and Last Name because apparently some databases are not indexed by First Name (see my example of William Seaver in the Dedham VR book noted above).

By the way, did anyone catch the typo in the source citation noted above? My spell-checker did!

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