Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More thoughts about Ancestry.com Person View

In my post Ancestry Labs and Person View - a first look! yesterday, I lamented the apparent fact that no Web Records were showing up for my searches.  In Comments on the Ancestry.com Blog post We're launching Ancestry.com Labs -- and we'd love your feedback, Tony Macklin replied to me that:

"...web search is currently live, however, this is a prototype, and it looks like your search for Frederick Seaver may have uncovered an intermittent data issue. We’re working on this now (for a view on how this works with other records, do a search for a Morgan Bell Edwards, born in 1885, with web records only checked)."

For me, it's a constant data issue - for every person I've checked, including persons not in my Ancestry Member Tree (e.g., Barack Obama, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington), I get no Web Record results.  The one Web Record for Morgan Bell Edwards, suggested above by Tony, is from the Western States Marriage Collection. 

Tony's point is valid - the Person View is a prototype - meaning that it is still being developed.  So it will be awhile until the Web Records catches up to the Ancestry.com part of the Person View.

Several commenters on Tony's post hoped that Ancestry Member Trees would not be used to find matches to the target person, because so many assertions in the trees are unsourced or wrong.  Frankly, it looks to me that the whole Person View system depends on the Ancestry Member Tree, and on Ancestry.com records linked to one or more Ancestry Member Trees.  That is why it works so fast - the system does not search the Ancestry.com databases, it searches the Member Trees and finds any records attached to the person in those trees.  Without Ancestry Member Trees, I think that Person View doesn't work.

The obvious (to me, at least) Web Records that should be accessed by the Ancestry.com Person View include:

*  Rootsweb Message Board (http://boards.rootsweb.ancestry.com/) posts (within Ancestry.com domain)

*  Rootsweb Mailing List (http://lists.rootsweb.ancestry.com/) posts (within Ancestry.com domain)

*  Rootsweb WorldConnect Family Trees (http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/) (within Ancestry.com domain - I know, it's copied in Ancestry.com's Ancestry World Tree, but that is, apparently, not searched in Person View, and WorldConnect is easier and free to access).

*  Rootsweb Free Pages (http://freepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/directory/genealogy.html) - web pages with user-provided genealogy data (within Ancestry.com domain)

*  GenForum Message Boards (http://genforum.genealogy.com/) (owned by Ancestry.com)

*  Genealogy.com User pages (www.genealogy.com/users/ - web pages with user-provided genealogy data (owned by Ancestry.com)

*  Footnote Pages (http://www.footnote.com/pages/) (owned by Ancestry.com)

*  Find-A-Grave cemetery listings (http://www.findagrave.com/)

http://www.interment.net/ cemetery listings

*  USGenWeb Archives (http://www.usgwarchives.net/)

*  Family Tree Legends (http://www.familytreelegends.com/) databases

*  Genealogy blog posts

There are many other online freely available databases on websites like the National Archives, State Archives, public libraries, genealogical and historical societies. 

I can visualize links in Web Records to records on Footnote.com, FamilySearch.org, AmericanAncestors.org, WorldVitalRecords.com, FindMyPast.com, etc., assuming that the online record holders agree to the linkage (and why wouldn't they agree?  It will mean more hits, and possible subscriptions.). 

What other freely available sites should the Ancestry.com Person View search for Web Records?  I know that my readers can come up with free records that currently are not available on Ancestry.com.

In my opinion, the critical factor for acceptance of Ancestry.com Person View will be if persons without an Ancestry Member Tree can use it and obtain accurate and consistent results.  If that almost always happens, then it will be very successful. 

However, I wonder "How many persons that lived in the 19th and 20th century are in Ancestry Member Trees?"  How many people lived in those centuries in the USA (maybe 500 million?), or in English-speaking countries (maybe 1.0 billion?), or in the whole world (maybe 10 billion?)?   That's a really big task, isn't it?  Ancestry.com has about 1.5 billion names in their Member Trees, but many of these are duplicates, and range back to medieval times).  My best guess is that Ancestry.com Member Trees have perhaps 5% to 10% of the persons who lived in English-speaking countries in the 19th and 20th century (just a SWAG on my part...).  Obviously, searchers will be looking for their great-grandparents and grandparents first, so the numbers to choose from will be somewhat less - perhaps half of my guesses above - still big numbers!

This Person View idea is not a new idea - the MyHeritage Genealogy Research site has a search capability for thousands of web sites, including Ancestry.com.  The Live Roots site searches selected databases, including Ancestry and Footnote.   The difference here is one of scale - Ancestry.com has over 1 million subscribers, 1.5 billion names in Ancestry Member Trees, and almost 30,000 databases. 

What do you think?  Tell me, tell Ancestry.com via their Feedback link on the Person View page.


Donna said...

Good observations and suggestions for improvements.

Unknown said...

I've also yet to see any web results for my searches. I know that this is still beta, but how can I test out a function that isn't turning up in my searches?

And yes, this entire new application seems to be based around Family Trees. I'm wondering if they should have just called this a "Family Tree Search Engine" because that's about all I'm getting in my results

Although this does seem to work just fine, it doesn't seem to offer anything new in the way of research results.