Monday, June 9, 2008

Differences in Search Results

I posted last month about testing the New Search results on The blog announced that it was available for everyone on 29 May, in the post "New Search is available for everyone." The post highlighted the improvements. Note the comments to the announcement post - not one commenter likes the New Search capabilities.

In using it, I've found that there are a number of differences in the Search Results on between the Old familiar Search and the New "improved" Search.

Let me use examples to illustrate one problem I have with the New "improved" Search:

I was looking for information on Frederick Seaver (my father's and grandfather's name). So I entered Fred* Seaver in the main Ancestry Old Search entry box and received these databases for an "Exact Search":

There were 23 matches in the California Voter Registration database. I clicked on that set of matches:

I clicked on one of the matches (the 11th one down) to see if I have that person in my Seaver database in FamilyTreeMaker. Here is the screen I got (zoomed and shifted a bit):

Fred E. Seaver in Los Angeles County in 1948 is listed over in the right hand column. OK - that works fine. It's pretty easy to find this Exact Match to my search request.

I wanted to see if it was easier to find this particular record using the New Search process. The list of matches in the Search results above have the "Try It" link in the beige header above the Search results. I clicked on "Try It" and after a sales pitch screen, got this search box, so I entered Exact Match and Fred* Seaver in the box:

The complete list of Search results includes everything in the Ancestry databases, and California Voter Registrations is right at the top of the list - with 822 matches!

Huh? What's up with this? Did the Old Search miss 799 matches? I clicked on the link to the California Voter Registration database and this is the first screen that comes up:

As you can see, this particular database now shows thumbnail images - one from each sub-set of the database matches. However, the matches are now those with Fred* and Seaver on the same page - not for only the Fred* Seaver persons I requested with an Exact Match.

This is really unacceptable to me. It makes an Exact Search impossible. The results for the 23 persons named Fred* Seaver in this database are in the Search results, but now I'll have to look through 17 screens to find them.

There are also some differences between the entries in the Search results on the Old Search Results screen (#2 above) and the New Search Results (#5 above). The New Search Results include newspaper and other databases in the Census and Voter Lists section, and in the Birth, Marriage and Death section, and in others too.

This is wonderful, except in the New Search Results the same thing happens with many of the newspapers - the results are shown as thumbnails and are not for the specific person requested but are for Fred* and Seaver appearing on the same page. The latter happens on the Stories and Publications in the Old Search Results unfortunately, and makes searching them very arduous.

The top database on Screen #5 above in the Birth, Marriage and Death section is The Valley Independent (Monessen, Pennsylvania) with 338 matches. This newspaper does appear on the Old Search results for Stories and Publications, but with only 2 matches (neither of which are for a Fred* Seaver). Why doesn't the Old Search find the "marches" found in the New Search, or does the New Search use a different OCR search algorithm that finds more matches?

I'm really confused by these differences between Search results. Someone who doesn't "trust" Ancestry would say that they are trying to get more hits for their web site and raise advertising revenues. I can't believe that they trying to confuse the users and make them mad - that's just not good business sense.

Or is this a ploy to drive everybody to use the New Search and to discontinue the Old Search in the future? If so, I sure hope that they fix the New Search results.

The bottom line for me is this: When I request an "Exact Search" then I expect an "Exact Search." The search results for Old Search and New Search should be the same. I'm sticking to the Old Search for now.

I also wondered last month why Ancestry World Tree was not included in the Family Trees section on the New Search results. It still doesn't show up.

UPDATED: 11:30 am - added a link to the Ancestry announcement of New Search. And I couldn't resist commenting about it!


Cat said...

I also tried the new search and found that information that the old search displayed the new search didn't find at all. I'll stick with tried and true until the kinks get worked out. - Cat

Taneya said...

Randy - I felt the same way when I tried it several weeks ago - since when does "exact" not mean "exact"? :-) I really hope they fix that too!

Kendall said...

Randy, we're looking into this issue. It looks like it might be a bug in the system that we can hopefully work out before long. We're certainly trying our best to make the new system great. Thanks for your patience.