Saturday, February 28, 2009

Genealogy Search Engines: FamilySearch Record Search - Post 2: Wild Card Search

I posted my Search evaluation criteria, the questions I want to answer and the targeted search I want to pursue in this series of posts in Evaluating the Search Engines - Evaluation Criteria.

While performing this demonstration on the FamilySearch Record Search site, I evaluated the four Search criteria in Post 1: Simple Search and started the Search for Isaac Seaver (born in 1823 in Massachusetts) in the 1860 U.S. Census. The process was fairly simple, but the resulting image was on (a commercial site), so I could not see it without a description. Unfortunately, the Source citation did not provide a NARA Microfilm Roll Number so I could not easily find it on HeritageQuestOnline either.

I'm going to start over, this time testing the "Wild Card" capabilities of the Search engine. In the Search box on the home page, I entered First Name = "isa*" and Last Name = "sea*" (note the wild card use of "*" to denote that there may be other letters following these three letters in each name). I decided to also choose a certain event - I clicked on the down arrow on the Life Event box and the drop-down menu had the choices of "All Events," "Birth/christening," "Marriage," or "Death/burial." I chose "Birth/christening since I have a known birth date of 1823 and a birth place of Massachusetts. The Search screen before I hit the Search button is shown below:

I clicked on the "Search" button and this screen appeared:

Harrummpphh. I didn't expect that. The screen said, in red letters, "Wild cards may be used in one Name field per search." Okay, I'll play by the rules. I made Given Name = "Isaac" and kept Last Name = "Sea*." When I clicked on the Search button I got this screen:

Double harrumpphh. The red letters say "Too many results were returned from the wild card search to be displayed."

Okay, let's narrow the search a little. I clicked on the "More" button at the left bottom of the Search box, and saw more Search box parameters. I put "Lucretia" in the Spouse First Name box, as shown below:

When I hit the Search button, I got the same message as before, in red letters: "Too many results were returned from the wild card search to be displayed."

I went back to the main screen and entered just Last Name = "Sea*" with Al Events = 1823 and Place = "Massachusetts" with "Exact and close match" and got too many matches.

I entered Last Name = "Seav*" and the other selections and got 745 matches in all of the databases. At least now I know that the Wild Card Search works. It just doesn't work the way I expected it to!

I entered Last Name = "Seav*" and the other selections, but changed the parameter to "Exact matches only" and got the message "At this time, wildcards may not be used with the 'Exact matches only' search option."

I entered Last Name = "Seave*" with the other selections and the "Exact and close matches" option and got 2,655 matches. Now I'm really confused - how can I narrow the search (going from "Seav*" to "Seave*" and get more matches? My conclusion is that the wild card search is unreliable!

I clicked on "More" and entered Spouse = "lucretia" and received one match - the 1880 US Census. Lucretia Seaver is indexed with Isaac Seaver in this census.

Even though Lucretia was in the same family as Isaac Seaver in the 1860 US Census, she was apparently not "associated" with Isaac Seaver in the indexing done by FamilySearch Indexing. This is a "nuance" (and many would say a "flaw") for the specific database. If a user is not aware of the nuance, s/he may think that the desired record does not exist. S/he would be wrong, of course. I could have searched for "Lucretia Seav*" and found the 1860 US census record (but "Lucretia Sea*" resulted in too many records.

Is there any documentation that tells us what information is indexed for a specific record collection? Well, of course there is - but you have to be in the specific record collection to read it! The description for the 1860 US census is here - but it does not mention associating others in the household with a specific person, such as Lucretia Seaver with Isaac Seaver. A researcher new to this record collection might put their Search information in the home page Search box without understanding that each database may have unique Search parameters.

The lessons learned during this testing of the FamilySearch Record Search wild card feature are:

* The user can specify a wild card (at least three letters at the start of a name) in only one of the names
* Wild cards can be used, but the results seem flaky.
* Wild cards can be used with only the "Exact and close matches" option.
* Some record databases on this site do not associate family or household members in the index, therefore a search for a Spouse, or Parents, will not result in matches.

The next FamilySearch post will be done using the specific database.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Although it is confusing at best, I understand why Lucretia is not linked to Isaac as his spouse in the 1860 census record: the 1860 census does not state specific relationships. You may know that Lucretia is Isaac's wife, but it doesn't say so on the 1860 census. Thanks for highlighting this situation for users. I use FamilySearch Record Search quite a bit for some specific databases, like Ohio death certificates. But unless you are working with a very unusual name, searching all the databases for America at once doesn't work very well. The additional frustration is that some records (like the 1860 census) are actually available on another (in this case pay subscription) site. Luckily, I subscribe to Ancestry, so on those occasions when I find a census entry on Family Search that is not viewable there, I can go to Ancestry and locate it. Still, I have found Family Search very helpful in certain situations.