Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What good is it if it won't work?

[Rant on...]

How often do you go to a genealogy web site or database provider, enter search terms in a search box, and then ... wait ... and wait ... and wait longer ... zzzzz ... and finally give up?

I wanted to find more information about the Frederick and Elizabeth (Seaver) Blanchard family tonight (their marriage location, their first son's birth date and birth place, etc.). I went to the New England Historic Genealogical Society's web site, logged in (I am a member), clicked on Databases and then on the Massachusetts Vital Records 1841-1910 link, and entered terms in the search box for the Blanchard-Seaver marriage.

The matches to my search came up quickly, and I clicked on the one for 1878 in Leominster, knowing that it was the right one. I then had a choice between the MrSID plugin and the "non-plugin image" to click on. I had downloaded the MrSID plugin several months ago (again, probably the third or fourth time I've done it), so I clicked on that since I know it is easier to manipulate and read the image than the other one. What - a blank screen? Arrggghhhh. Okay, back to the choice, the "non-plugin image" should do. I clicked on that, and I waited ... and waited ... and after three minutes got an "Internet Explorer cannot display the web page" message. What the ----? Double Arrggghhhh.

So I went back to the Search box and went looking for the Birth record. I clicked Search and after waiting ... more waiting ... waiting at least five minutes, what the fu--? I finally stopped it and started writing this post. I gave them two chances and they have two strikes and a frustrated customer.

Okay, deep breath, let's try again [note to self, don't strike the keyboard or the mouse button hard, be gentle, it's not your computer's fault] -- back to the Search box, enter the birth information, hit Search, the search results appeared within five seconds, click on the "non-plugin image" link, the image comes up within five seconds, there he is, yep, Frederick Thomas Blanchard was born on 24 September 1878 in Harvard MA to Frederick G. and Elizabeth L. (Seaver) Blanchard.

Being the whining victim that I am, I decided to go for the third strike - I went back and clicked on the MrSID plugin image link, and it popped up within five seconds also. So - no third strike. I guess I'm glad of that. My mouse is too.

I had this same experience yesterday morning trying to find the same information. I gave up then too. I've had this same experience probably ten times over the past six months - again and again.

The page with the Search results says:

"Please note that some users are experiencing a problem where their browser closes after viewing 5 or 6 images with the MrSID plugin, we are working to resolve this issue and apologize for the interruption in your research. We suggest that you make sure your browser and PC are updated, it has been our experience that this helps to resolve the issue." in capital letters, but small font size.

Isn't that wonderful? It not only doesn't work about 75% of the time, but stops working, and shuts down your browser, soon after it does work. And they want to blame my browser and computer? I wonder how long that notice has been on the web site? Something tells me they aren't working very hard to resolve this issue.

Does NEHGS really want us to use the web site to search their databases? If so, why haven't they fixed it? They must be aware of the problems with this particular database. Frankly, the VR databases are my major reason for continuing to pay $75 a year for the membership. I would have to go to Boston and stay in a hotel to view these VRs, or go to Salt Lake City to the FHL to view the microfilms, or rent many films at my local FHC to obtain the information I need. The other benefit of the NEHGS membership is the two excellent publications - the New England Historical and Genealogical Register and New England Ancestors. I can always read the periodicals at one of the local libraries a year after publication.

My basic questions are: Why did this work at 8:10 p.m. PST and not at 8:00 p.m. PST? Why doesn't it work quickly every time? Are they really working hard to resolve this issue? Can I call them right now and see how much progress they're making?

Frankly, I would feel more "connected" to NEHGS and if it worked quickly every time I tried to use it. That's the standard of customer service that I expect from NEHGS, Ancestry, WorldvitalRecords and all of the other database providers that I pay good money to use their services. Am I wrong to feel this way?

[Rant off]

There, I feel better. The opinions expressed here are those of the author of Genea-Musings. Your experience and mileage may vary.

What genealogy database providers frustrate you? Are any others as bad as NEHGS is for me?

UPDATE 12/18, 2:30 p.m.: Squeaking wheels get attention, and this post got some at NEHGS. I was just on the telephone with NEHGS President and CEO D. Brenton Simons, whom I briefly met at the SCGS Jamboree (I'm sure he doesn't remember, but I do). He said that he understood the frustration behind the post, and that they receive many similar complaints from members. Brenton said that they are aware of the problems with the web site, and are working on fixing it, but it will take some time. I appreciate Brenton's contact and understanding and his willingness to improve the site. I look forward to praising the new site design and operation when it happens. We had a good conversation.


Anonymous said...

Yes Randy, their (NEHGS) database is NOT the greatest. I feel your pain. Been there, done that. However, I did discover some important documents from a distance using their database. It was just frustrating to say the least.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Ancestry sometimes takes forever to load for me. I've found that clicking on the reload or refresh button on my browser speeds things up most of the time but I don't know if it works with other sites. I agree that if I'm paying to use a site I want it to work quickly and consistently.

Bobbie said...

I'm thrilled to learn it works right sometimes. I've failed to be able to view any data for the last several times I tried. I take that back. One time a view came up, but the print was so small, I couldn't read it. I'll go back and try again. Of course the answer to the problem is that I (we) must take the time and effort to call NEHGS every time we can't get it to work properly, so it becomes just as much of a problem to them as to us. It goes without saying that the tone of the calls should be courteous.

Sheri Fenley said...

Whoa, settle down big boy. Now, try a little may get further using it!

If sweet-talking doesn't do it, then you can pound them.

Anonymous said...


The LizardTech site says their plug-in works with both Firefox and Internet Explorer. Have you tried switching from one to the other?

If their plug-in does not work, perhaps you can download the MrSID images and use their or a third-party viewer. MrSID images are large but the viewer may allow selection and export to a more common format.

As far as I known, they are the only ones with a plug-in for their proprietary image format.

- Tamura

Unknown said...

I have had problems as well most of the time in the evening. I have never had an issue viewing images however. Generally it is due to the site being down. As for text size, if you just click on the text size at to top of every page you can make the text as big as you want. I personally have had great success with NEHGS in my research. If not for the downtime I would really have no complaints.