Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Genealogy Search Engines: - Post 3: Advanced 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, I evaluated the four Search criteria in Post 1: Basic Concepts and started the Search for Isaac Seaver (born in 1823 in Massachusetts) in the 1860 U.S. Census. In Post 2: Simple Search, I demonstrated the Simple Search for Isaac Seaver, using the search parameters [isaac seaver massachusetts].

I'm going to start over, this time using the "Advanced Search" option and search for [Is* Sea* Massachusetts] - note the wild card use of "*" - and specify the 1860 US Census. The home page of has a Simple Search box at the top of the page, and you can find "Advanced Search" in the drop-down box next to the "Search" button, as shown below:

I clicked on "Advanced Search" (Click 1) and the Advanced Search box appeared with parameters of First Name, Last Name, Place, Year, Keyword and Title or Collection. I entered First Name = "is*" (meaning I'm looking for names beginning with "Is" which might include Isaac, Isidore, Isabella, etc.), Last Name = "Sea*" (meaning I'm looking for names beginning with "Sea" which might include Seabury, Sears, Seaver, Seaton, etc.), and Place = "Massachusetts." The Search box looks like this:

I want to select a specific database, the 1860 U.S. Census. The drop-down menu for "Title or Collection" shows many titles and collections - I clicked the 1860 U.S. Census title and it appeared in the "Title or Collection" box:

OK, I'm ready to hit the "Search" button (Click 2):

I got 19 matches for my Search parameters. How can I narrow the Search? The available parameters in the left column are First Name, Last Name, Place, Age, Race, Birth Place, county, Family Number, Minor Civil Division, and Sex. I chose Last Name, which had 4 entries for "Seaver":

Clicking on "Seaver" (Click 3), there were four search results. Note the narrowed search terms in the yellow boxes near the top of the page:

Scrolling down, there are the other two search results:

I clicked on the third search result (Isaac Seaver in Westminster MA, page 44) thumbnail image (Click 4) and the 1860 US Census page appeared:

I described all of the features on this page in Post 2. The user can run the mouse over each name and the indexed name appears. There is a "More info" link in the popup box. Clicking on it gives this view:

In the screen above, I closed the filmstrip at the bottom of the page so that all of the popup box information was visible.

The four questions that I wanted to answer about this Search capability, and my answers, are:

* Does the Search find the record I'm seeking? YES, the record was found.

* How many clicks does it take to find the sought record? In Simple Search, it took 5 clicks (in Post 2), and in Advanced Search (Post 3) it took 4 clicks.

* Does the sought record provide a source citation? YES, but it is incomplete. The NARA Microfilm Roll number is not provided. On the other hand, the source is provided on the same page as the record.

* Was the process easy to use? YES, once the learning curve was climbed. Knowing about the "Narrow the Search" possibilities, the "Advanced Search" box, and the ability to search a selected Title or Collection really helps navigation and narrowing the search.

In my opinion, the Search process could be improved by:

* Providing the Advanced Search box on the home page. At the present time, it is well hidden behind the Search button.

* Putting more than 20 Search results on a page 50, say, would be easier to quickly review without another click to the Next page).

* Adding necessary information to the source citation (for the 1860 US Census, the NARA film roll number is a must, IMHO).

The things I like about the Footnote Search include:

* The use of a wild card for any number of letters (e.g., I*, Is* or Isa* for a first name - other Search engines require 3 letters before the wild card character)

* Being able to select the Title or Collection in the "Advanced Search" box is very useful.

* When the user narrows the search, the number of results for each sub-category is shown. I would rather search through 4 "Seaver" matches than 14 "Isaac" matches.

* The ability to manipulate the image magnification, brightness, and contrast is useful.

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