Wednesday, March 16, 2011

First Look at Mocavo - A New Genealogy Search Engine

A new genealogy-specific web page search engine was announced today (15 March) - a site called Mocavo (  Cliff Shaw, who is well-known in the genealogy industry, is the principal in development of this search engine.

What is Mocavo?  How will it work?  The web page says:

"The world’s largest free genealogy search engine,, giving genealogists access to the best free genealogy content on the web including billions of names, dates and places. seeks to index and make searchable all of the world’s free genealogy information. While discovers new sites every day, some of the existing sites searchable on include genealogy message boards, family trees, state and local historical societies, the Library of Congress, National Archives, Ellis Island, Find A Grave, the Internet Archive, various U.S. state archives, and many tens of thousands of genealogy sites built by individuals. Similar to other search engines, honors site owners by linking directly to their content."

The goal to "index and make searchable all of the world's free genealogy information" is admirable, and also challenging.  The list of already indexed websites is impressive, but the challenge is to find the rest of them (including genealogy related blogs), and to keep the indexing updated as new content is added each day.

I was provided the opportunity to "test drive" Mocavo and to provide impressions of the site and its capabilities.  In the process, I suggested several modifications to the navigation and functionality of the site and the changes were added to the site quickly.   

The user is encouraged to "Enter full names, places, years etc. Full names in quotes" in the search box.  While these are well-known "tricks" to narrow a search for a person in other search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo), the matches obtained in Mocavo do not include social network sites, person search sites, or non-genealogical content.  Therefore, the matches are fewer using Mocavo and are restricted to specific genealogical websites. 

Here is the screen resulting from my search for "isaac seaver" 1823:

One of the "hidden" features of Mocavo is this:  if you enter a name in quotes (e.g., "isaac seaver") you will receive matches from web pages that have "isaac seaver" and "seaver isaac" on them - you don't have to search again with the last name first.  Search results also capture the words in quotes with one or two words between them (for example, a middle name or a middle initial).  As of today, there is no wild card search for a name such as "seav*" to capture all results for a name or word stating with "seav."  Cliff Shaw says that they are working on this capability.

Mocavo seems to work very quickly.  In my time trials, it always found matches within one second, similar to Google searches (although Google found many more matches, but many of them are not genealogy related).  The times are acceptable to me - I don't think that fast!

When a user clicks on one of the links for a search result, the web page comes up in a frame within Mocavo.  I clicked on the first match in the screen above, and saw:

Cliff Shaw assured me that the web page was not cached, and that Mocavo is loading the content directly from the site and not through us.  They want site owners to get traffic, ad revenue, etc. 

The Mocavo frame is intended to ease navigation back to the search results.  There is a nice big "Back to search results" button in the top Mocavo frame, and the requested search string is in the search field.  I like those features a lot! 

My impressions of, after using it occasionally for about one week, is that:

*  Mocavo promises to be a genealogist's dream - a search engine focused on free online genealogy resources.

*  Mocavo listed genealogy specific matches on the first results page which were buried many pages deep on other search engines.

*  Mocavo has the potential to guide family historians to free online resources fast.

*  Mocavo is another search tool for genealogists in their never ending quest for ancestral information.

Of course, the proof is in the functionality and use of the site - the developers of Mocavo need to continue to add more genealogy websites to the "free genealogy" list.  My suggestions include Google Books; Rootsweb mailing list archives; family tree sites like Geni, WeRelate, WikiTree; Wikipedia; Familysearch Research Wiki; and genealogy research blogs come to mind.

I encourage readers to try out the site, but understand that there will be many more free genealogy sites indexed and searchable in the foreseeable future.

Disclosure:  I was granted time to explore by the developers, and to suggest additions and changes to the web site navigation.  I promised to provide quotes for use in the announcement and promotion of the web site, but I made no promise of a favorable review.  I was not remunerated in any way by the Mocavo developers. 

UPDATE 7:30 p.m.:  Reader Pamela Storm of SFGenealogy asked in Comments about:

"As a web-site owner, I'm concerned that the original web pages of our website are all displayed as if they belong to Mocavo, under Mocavo's banner and URL.  I see no way for users to get directly to the ORIGINAL website. Have I missed something?"

Cliff Shaw answered:

"If you click the X on the top right of the frame, it will close the frame. This bar is just designed for convenience."

I missed that nuance - you can see the X in the last screen shot above.  It may be better to add text in red or bold to say "Click to go to source website."  We all want to cite our sources or bookmark useful information, and the X takes you to the source website. 

As I mentioned, this site is still in development, and I know that Cliff will appreciate suggestions!

UPDATED 3/16, 9 a.m.  Changed date so that this post will stay at the top of the blog. The original post date was 15 March.


Celia Lewis said...

Sounds very interesting Randy. Thanks for test-driving this model for the non-techies in the genealogy world! I'm always up for trying to find free sources of genealogical information and this seems like it might help a lot. Cheers - Celia

Pamela Storm of SFgenealogy said...

Thanks, Randy.

As a web-site owner, I'm concerned that the original web pages of our website are all displayed as if they belong to Mocavo, under Mocavo's banner and URL.

I see no way for users to get directly to the ORIGINAL website. Have I missed something?

A hotlink with text for the original website appears in the search results list, but it isn't coded to take the researcher to the original website. It simply goes back to Mocavo. I also tried to cut-and-paste the portion of Mocavo's URL that contains part of our website's URL. Nothing I can see allows the researcher to get to the original website where the real data actually resides.

It's lightning-quick, yes. But can someone please explain to me why I should be pleased about this? I'm sure it's something I'm missing.


Cliff Shaw said...

Hi Pamela,

If you click the X on the top right of the frame, it will close the frame. This bar is just designed for convenience.

Not sure what you mean by "original web site". You are viewing the original web site below the bar, directly from the site.

Anonymous said...

FYI I got to the original websites of two places by opening it in a new window.

If that didn't work, I just googled the site and found it myself.

Interesting place - spent 15 minutes and found 4 books, 1 cemetery record I'd never seen before and three new web sites to search later on.

GeniAus said...

Randy, I wasn't impressed and didn't like the claim that ", provides genealogists access to the best free genealogy content on the web" I think they need to revise this. It should aspire to be the best but not make the calim at this satge of development.
Here is what I had to say:

Joe Camp said...

To remove your website from the Mocavo frame, just copy and paste this code between the HEAD tags of your website template or individual pages. This will ensure that your website URL shows up in the location bar of your visitor's browser, while preserving the function of their Back button.

Anonymous said...

A lot of websites' terms and conditions do not allow the presentation of them in a frame. They tend to consider doing so to be passing off which is a is a violation of trademark law. Consequently displaying the results of the search within a frame on the Mocavo site could land it in trouble.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. It's not perfect, but it is REALLY fast even over a sloow connection. I found several good new leads about families I knew quite a lot about, but had less luck with families I haven't worked on much.

Clicking on a link in the original material leads directly to the original site without the Mocavo frame.

Pamela Storm of SFgenealogy said...

Thanks Cliff. The search engine sounds promising. However, I agree with Randy 100% when he says, "It may be better to add text in red or bold to say 'Click to go to source website.' We all want to cite our sources or bookmark useful information..."

I'd also suggest that you consider making the green "hot links" in the search results actually point to the original website. Another alternative is to include the original website's URL right in the search engine's banner that appears over our own webpages.

Is any of this something you'd be willing to implement?

cheekygnome said...

I'm not crazy about Mocavo yet. I'd like it better if they would collapse search results from a single site (genforum for example) like Google does ("Show more results from"). I'd like to get past all of the stuff without having to go through 12 pages of results.

Unknown said...

Inspired by Mocavo, I've tried my hand making my own genealogy search engine. It is not as polished as Mocavo to be sure, but it will find many results that Mocavo will not, yet is still largely focused on genealogy sites.

My introduction to the search engine is posted at:

and the search engine itself is online at:

As described in my intro, it will not find all the sites that Mocavo does, but will find many other sites that Mocavo does not find (especially small sites, or small genealogically-relevant sections of larger non-genealogical sites like Yahoo).

For those whose search queries include towns from the former Austro-Hungarian region of Galicia, it has an additional enhancement described in my intro above.

I would love to hear what people think of the results it returns, and if it is helpful at all.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I discovered that Mocavo is "framing" all 300,000+ pages of my websites. That is considered poor internet etiquette, not to mention, rude and scummy.

Guess who stayed up all night configuring her web server to block requests from Mocavo? Guess who will check periodically to make sure it doesn't happen later.

I LOVE being searched by Google and just about every search engine. However, I won't have my sites hijacked and presented as "owned" by some other domain.