Friday, July 5, 2013

Follow-Up Friday - Helpful and Useful Reader Comments

It's Follow-Up Friday again - I had some very helpful and interesting reader comments this past week on Genea-Musings posts, including:

1)  On Comparing "Old Search" and "New Search" Results on (28 June 2013):

*  Denise Fischer said:  "The reason you don't see much of a difference is that you do not have the Exact Matches box checked on the Old Search form.  When you do, the list is much more compact, much easier to navigate and I find what I am looking for much faster."

*  Andy Hatchett responded:  "Denise, the 'Exact Match' boxes weren't checked in the NewSearch example so it was a fair test.  Checking them in one test and not is the other is comparing apples to oranges -i.e. no test at all."

*  I responded also:  "I had "Exact Matches" unchecked for both the "New Search" and "Old Search" tests. The results are similar with "Exact Matches" checked as one would expect in 2013.   I can do a test with "Exact Matches" checked if you want!"

*  Geolover offered:  "There also has been some discussion (some not nice) and an Ancestry staffer's input on an message board, here: "

and: "Another series of discussions pro and con are here: "

*   Denise Fischer commented:  "Checking what seems to be the equivalent of 'exact matches' on New Search gives results that have the same appearance. 

"My issue is the extreme amount of empty space presented on New Search, requiring much scrolling to read them all. Therefore it takes longer to scan through and find possible real matches. 

"When I use Old Search with exact matches checked I am presented with about 5 possible census collection matches, 5 birth, death etc collection matches, 5 military collection matches. This can be clicked through much more quickly."

My response to Denise:  "Are you saying that you are getting a list of matches for your search in "New Search" that are from different databases? If so, you are seeing results on the "Records" tab. If you switch to the "Categories" tab (top of the Results page, on the right) you will see the orderly list of databases within the categories - the 5 census databases, the 5 vital records databases, etc. Does that work for you?

"Maybe i'll post about that feature again - I last wrote about it in "  

*  Rosemary commented:  "I agree with you. Many people just don't know about categories, don't restrict their search to a specific country, and don't unclick the member trees, stories, and images. These options are all "sticky" and stay from one session to the next. At least they do with my browser which is FireFox.

"I've found some interesting and unusual databases that I would never have seen using the usual types of search. There may be just a couple of hits in these databases and would be just lost in all the other hits."

My comment:  Excellent points, especially about the "sticky" search forms.  We all have to understand, and watch what are entered into, the search forms.

*  Denise Fischer said:  "The categories tab on New Search does make it more like the results on Old Search.  The problem I have with it is the empty space between each item. They could be compacted, making it easier to scan through quickly."

*  Geolover commented:  "One problem with the 'Categories' view is that there may be many pages of listings, ranging from 27,000 'hits' to one 'hit' each. always lists them in descending order of number of 'hits.' I have found that my actual pertinent results are nearly always in one of the items with a single 'hit.' But there is no way to navigate to the end of the list immediately or to reverse the numerical sorting order.

"This particularly irritating in the first round of searching from a tree, when the search engine disregards bracketing by the individual's vital dates, and may include databases for wrong places that "match" only an initial letter of a first or middle name. So sensible searching from a tree in New Search always requires several search-refinement operations to begin to get something manageable.  This can be frustrating."

My response:  I agree with these remarks.  If you use both "Records" View and "Categories" View, you should be able to find all of your matches  by narrowing the search and perhaps not searching Trees and Photos.  We really have to use both Views to find everything we want.

It seems to me that Ancestry drives those who search from Trees to the full "not exact" experience.  If you click on "Exact matches" without removing many of the search field entries you get only the Member Trees matches.  Frustrating."

*  inner_child said:  "I am a user of the old search. I have even found a way to remove the ranking. Ancestry needs to listen to its customers. We want a one page summary of results, achievable in a quick intuitive way."

My comment:  What is the way you found to remove the ranking on "Old Search?"  My guess is that it was to check the "Exact Match" box.  Which gives you fewer matches, and a one page summary of results by categories and databases in each category.  But it's never "one page" unless there are very few matches.  

*  Kathryn offered:  "I typically use the Old Search with Exact Matches checked and wildcards. I've compared it to the New Search with categories several times and I keep going back to the Old Search because it is just plain easier for me to read! 

"I think the New Search has caught up as far as results go, but the Old Search is still laid out in a more compact way. The little divisions between the category types and less space between each category makes it not only easier for me to read, but I can see more matches at a glance.

"One area where I do prefer the New Search is for newspapers since it gives a preview of each match, while the Old Search only gives the title."

My comment:  Thanks for the information about the Newspaper matches.  Here's a second vote, along with Denise, for less space between items on the "Categories" list.

*  Smadar Belkind Gerson said:  "I 'Like' searching from a member tree. I always begin that way. Usually, their top recommendations are applicable and easy to search through. Only after I work through their suggestions, do I go back and modify the search, change spellings, take away locations etc. For example, if an ancestor spend very little time in New York and has a very common name, I might get so many New York listings that are not relevant, and which push the Vermont listings where he lived most of his life way down the list. So I take out New York and voila!"

*  Crista [Cowan] commented:  "That 50% of searches that begin from a tree are actual historical record/tree searches just like you did here, not hint views."

My comment:  Thanks for that information - clears up my question!  Funny, I have never done the searching for historical records from as person profile in my tree.  It's a great tool in the toolkit, and works really well in the "Records" View - the best matches are usually on the first page at or near the top of the list.

*  Anonymous noted:  "Personally, I use the hints and determine whether or not they are for my person. If they are, I attach them. If they aren't, I ignore them. Then I click on the search records from that person's profile. This usually turns up a couple of extra hints, unless it is a person that had lots of hints. If the search records don't turn up results in databases where I would expect to find an individual, I then edit the search for that specific database. Finally, if I know there are databases that could contain my individual, but didn't hint or turn up in the search records, I navigate to that database using the card catalog or quick links on my Ancestry homepage, and play around with search for that particular database. Admittedly, I've only been researching for a couple of years, but New Search makes sense to me, and generally has done a pretty good job. The only problem I've had, which has just been recently, is that, sometimes, using some of the exact search options gives me a result of zero good matches. This must be a glitch in the software, as, later, I can do the exact same search and get results. I'm not certain if it has something to do with traffic or what."

My comment:  I really like your "workflow" here - it's basically "pluck the low hanging fruit" and then "search hard for the missing records."  I think that some variation of this strategy will become dominant with most Ancestry searchers once they figure out how Ancestry tries to help them.  

*  Valerie LaRobadier noted:  "I can see how this can be useful, especially if it will pick up Phebe and Phoebe [for example] in a single search! But for most of my searches it is VERY time consuming to have to check off all the options in order to force it to do what old search does, and old search gives the best results for my most frequent searches. If I switch back and forth my speed dial census search forms land on new search and have to be reset...also time consuming. I am going to try to see if I can get new search only in one browser while old search is open in another."

*  Anonymous responded:  " has sticky searches, so all the filters you set will remain until you clear them. To clear all filters at one time you need to place a checkmark in the box next to "match all terms exactly" and then remove the checkmark from the box. This will set all filters back to default and you can start a fresh search."

My comment:  The search forms should remain where you left them, Valerie - either on "Old Search" or "New Search," or on "Exact matches" or "Not exact" matches.  Whatever you left them on - and that applies to both "Old Search" and "New Search."   I almost always use the Advanced Search form (on the "Search" tab) in "New Search" and then use the Name and Locality filters as desired.  I often use wild cards for first and last names (three consonants, if available), with a birth year range and a birth locality to narrow my results.  

*  John H asked:  " you know of any good comparison of all the newspaper sites? Something that compares the services against one another would be great. For example, what papers are only available on one site vs. which papers appear on all of these sites?"

My response:  Miriam Robbins has an Online Historical Newspapers Online ( website that may be exactly what you want, but I'm not sure how up-to-date it is. You might also look at for some of the not well known collections, but it doesn't include NewspaperARCHIVE, GenealogyBank or ProQuest.  

6)  That's it for the week - almost all all the time.  Thank you for reading!

Thank you also to the commenters who successfully conquered the dreaded Blogger Captcha trap and were able to get their comments online.

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver

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