Tuesday, November 10, 2009

AFL with "New Search" on Ancestry.com

I have several reasons for not using the "New Search" capability on Ancestry.com - but the most important reason is that I cannot trust it to return matches that I know it should. Let me give you an example.

I went looking for Paul Schaffner in the World War I Draft Registrations for San Francisco, California tonight using "New Search" (I wanted to work with the new refine search tool). I didn't get any matches when I put "Paul" "Schaf* in for the name in the name search fields, and chose "San Francisco County, California, USA" for the Residence field, for the specific database. I checked the "Exact Matches" box. My thought was, "OK, he didn't have a registration for some reason." So I took out the "Paul" and just went with "Schaf* and got the same result.

Hmmm, that's strange - there should be someone named Schafer or Schafner in San Francisco. I wondered how many registration cards there are for San Francisco, so I took out the name and went with just "San Francisco County, California, USA" in the Residence field, as shown below:

I pressed "Search" and saw:

No registrations in San Francisco County? There must have been!!!

What about the whole state of California? Surely there were some? I reduced the Residence field down to "California, USA":

After clicking Search, I was rewarded with 852,456 matches for the State of California:

I wasn't going to look through thousands of results pages for a San Francisco entry, so I clicked on one of the entries, and eventually got to the list of Counties for California as shown below:

There's no entry for San Francisco County, of course. I clicked on "San Francisco City," and was rewarded with a list of Draft board numbers (I think). I chose one at random, and saw a fine list of draft card numbers, chose one of those at random, and was rewarded with this one:

Joseph Dagneau is not the one I wanted, but he'll do for this exercise. At this point I'm pretty befuddled by what has happened. I went back and put "Jos*" "Dagneau" in the Name field, and selected "California, USA" in the Residence field on the search box, and obtained a match:

So what went wrong here? It appears that "New Search" works with the whole state, but not with at least one county on the Residence selection list.

I changed over to the trusty "Old Search" and the 186, 982 matches for Residence State = "California" and County = "San Francisco" popped up immediately. So "Old Search" can find San Francisco entries, but "New Search" apparently cannot.

What about other counties? I went back into "New Search" and checked "Fresno County, California, USA," "San Diego County, California, USA" and several others - without any names in the Search fields - and they all came up dry - No Matches! A Residence = "Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA" worked, but "Los Angeles County, California, USA" does not. A Residence = "Los Angeles County" should find all entries for the city and the county, since the user may only know the county name and not if the person resided in the city or not.

I don't know if "New Search" for this database doesn't work for other counties or other states, but I think Ancestry.com, and my readers, can understand the frustration involved in not receiving matches to search queries that are perfectly good queries. The problem seems to be in the associations of the Residence locations with sets of database images. I don't know if this is the only database with the problem. This is not the first time I've encountered this problem in "New Search," and it seems to bite me almost every time I decide I'll join the crowd and use it because it should be as good or better than "Old Search." It isn't yet! Obviously..

I will continue to advise my readers, friends, society colleagues and students to NOT USE Ancestry.com's New Search. My preference is "Old Search" with "Exact Matches" checked, and using wild cards, name spelling variations, age ranges and localities to search and find my research targets.

I really don't like to complain about things like this, but my AFL* kind of boiled over after 15 minutes of floundering around trying to find ANY draft registration card in San Francisco, let alone Paul Schaffner's. For what it's worth, I never found it in "Old Search," either! That wasn't Ancestry's fault, or mine either.

Disclosure: I am not an employee, contractor or affiliate of Ancestry.com. I do have a paid US Deluxe Ancestry.com subscription that I utilize almost every day. This post reflects my experience and my opinions, and I was not paid to express them.

* AFL = "Ancestry Frustration Level."


Amy Coffin said...

Ancestry search frustrates me to no end. Specifically for the reason you gave, as well as the excessive amount of clicks required to get results in the first place.

You're not alone in your frustration!

TCasteel said...

I was getting very frustrated - I thought it was just me. Thank you for the clear explanation! I will definitely go back to the old search option. Theresa Casteel (Tangled Trees)

Joan said...

Thanks for the information. I have had the same problems. What is really irritating is when I know the document is in Ancestry's database and it doesn't show up in the search.

And i thought it was me --- thanks

Kathleen O'Hara said...

Okay, I think I've been converted. I'd heard complaints about the new search not being as good as the old search, but I never paid much attention - because after all, I got god results with the new search, right? When I read this, I decided to give the old search a new try, and figured I'd start with one of my stumpers, the family that stops showing up on censuses entirely after 1910, when I had myriad other records that show them living in the same area through the 1940s.

I input a name into the old search, and up they popped on the 1930 census, the 5th result on my list! Yes, this census taker had particularly bad handwriting, and so they weren't indexed exactly under the names I was searching - but it appears that old search thought "Torrence" and "Morton" Quinn should be returned for "Terrence" and "Martin," while they never showed up anywhere in pages of results in new search.


GrannyPam said...

I often try to find a family by using a location and a first name, or a location and a last name. This strategy works well when indexing or image quality has "hidden" my targets. I agree, it does not work in "new search", only in old. I use old search almost exclusively for that reason.

Kaisa Kyläkoski said...

Thanks for this tip. Turns out that the old search also is able to pick immigration records with free text better than the new one.