Friday, May 27, 2011

Navigating Old and New Search on - Post 1: New Search, Advanced Form

In CONFESSION OF A GENEALOGICAL FUDDYDUDDY by Bill West on the West in New England blog, Bill confesses that he prefers the "Old Search" capability on  Several of his Facebook friends and commenters agree with him.  I used to agree with the sentiment.

I understand the frustration, but my opinion is that the sooner all users of learn how to make the "New Search" on work for them, the better off they will be.  I think that they will eventually come around to my view that "it is the most comprehensive and complex genealogical search engine on the Internet."  That's good (comprehensive), and may be bad (complex).  I think that  everyone should learn how to tame this tiger to get the most out of their genealogical research efforts using their subscription.  Also, it is likely that, at some point, will streamline their operations and eliminate the "Old Search" forms and search engines.  They seem to be hiding "Old Search" better now!

I now use "New Search" exclusively for my research, and demonstrate it in my presentations about effectively searching  But there are some "secrets" to my searching, which I'll try to share with you here:

1) "remembers" which search type (Old or New) you are using, and which form (Basic or Advanced) you are using from your last visit.  Here is my home page on (New Search, Advanced Form):

I like the Advanced Search form in New Search because it gives me the flexibility to get a search right the very first time.  At this stage of my research life, I usually want to find records for a specific person in a specific place, and know something about the person, like a birth date and a birthplace (even if it's only a state or country). 

I almost always search using "Exact search" terms rather than the "Ranked match" search that occurs if I use "Default settings" for first name, last name, place names, etc.  On the "Advanced Search" form above, I can check the "Match all search terms exactly" box (upper left-hand corner) and know that all fields will convert to this standard. 

I added Isaac Seaver to the name fields on the form above, checked the Exact Match box and hit the "Search" button:

2)  The screen above is for the "Summarized by Category" search, which is also my usual preference.  The search results are organized by record type, and then by collection within each record type.  The key to obtaining the screen above is to select "Summarized by Category" in the dropdown box in the line with the dark green background that starts "Matched 470 in All Categories - View" in the screen above.  If I click  on the down arrow to the right of the "Summarized by Category," then I can choose the alternative "Sorted by Relevance" screen seen below:

The "Sorted by Relevance" screen provides matches for the requested search in a seemingly random order (which I cannot figure out!).  The "Sorted by Relevance" list above for my Isaac Seaver has 385 entries, while the "Summarized by category" screen had 470 matches.  I haven't figured that out - why aren't they the same?  Without making a list of both of them, and comparing the lists, I can't determine the results order or the reason for fewer results using the "Sorted by Relevance."

Those two differences are why I prefer the "Summarized by category" screen to the "Sorted by relevance" - I like order, and figure that more matches is better than fewer matches.

The Results screens on "New Search" used to have a link to "Go to Old Search" in the upper right-hand corner.  They don't now, as you can see on the screens above.

3)  How do I get to "Old Search?"  The only link I found to do this was when I clicked the "Search" button on the top menu.  The Search page looks like:

Over on the top right-hand side of the screen, right under the Menu bar, is "Go to Old Search."  A link for the "Old Search" in the "Search: tab is  A link for "New Search" in the "Search" tab is  If you are going to use "Old Search," then I suggest that you save this post, or bookmark/favorite the URL, or remember that the "Search" button is the way there from "New Search."

As I mentioned, the next time you access the home page, you will see the home page and search page corresponding to the Search Form (Basic or Advanced) and Search Type (Old or New) that you last used. 

As I said - these settings are My Preference.  Your preferences may vary, and may work better for you for your research.  That's why has created this comprehensive and complex search engine - to help each of us find the best way to search for historical records, the one that works best.

There are more nuances to Searching Effectively - and I'll write about them in later posts. 

Disclosure:  I am not an employee, affiliate or contractor for, although I have accepted travel expenses and gifts from them in the past.  I have a U.S. Deluxe Subscription that I pay for myself.

UPDATED 30 May: deleted the 29 May update.


Tony Macklin said...

Hi Randy & all Genea-Musings readers.

Thanks for posting on Search - It's great to see discussion on Search within the community, and gives us here at a great opportunity to get some feedback on how well things are working.

As I was reading your blog, I realise that you have uncovered an "unexpected behaviour" in relevance vs category sort, and I thought it might be useful to clear up what's happening.

The difference between the two numbers is primarily because we exclude family trees from the "global" search. This is because we know most users want to get straight to historical records whereever possible, and trees, becuase of the depth of detail in them, tend to rise to the top of ranked search results. You can still see all trees in the relevance view by selecting just "view family trees" from the advanced search form, and excluding all other categories.

The way to check this is to run the search, look at the category view, and check how many family trees there are. This will usually be the difference between the two views.

I'd agree this is not the most elegant solution, and in time, we will be looking to improve the way this works.

Now, there is still one remaining mystery. As you describe in the post, Isaac Seaver generates 470 matches on Category view, of which trees are 84. However it generates 385 in relevance view, a difference of 85.

I have asked the team to look into what is happening here in that there appears to be an unexplained difference of 1... I'll let you know when we track it down


Tony Macklin
Head of Search,

Geolover said...

One of the major disadvantages of "New Search" mode on is that one cannot go to simple scrollable lists of major databae groups (say, Military Records) as one can in Old Search.

Accompanying this drawback is that access to the Card Catalog is disfunctional, and some of the Collection pages are downright deceptive about what the search box on the page will search (see Revolutionary War collection, where of the featured items listed at upper right, some aren't searchable at all, and some will not be searched by the search box's normal name fields.

In these respects,'s New Search is like mushroom management.