Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Navigating Ancestry.com - Post 2: New Search, Basic Form

In the previous post (Navigating Old and New Search on Ancestry.com - Post 1: New Search, Advanced Form), I highlighted my preferred method of searching Ancestry.com using the New Search features and the Advanced Search Form. 

Not everyone uses New Search with the Advanced Search Form, so I want to go through the most effective ways to use the Basic Search Form also.  See the recommendation at the bottom of this post.

When users access Ancestry.com for the first time, the system may come up with the Basic Search Form in New Search.  Beginning users will not know about differences between the Basic Form and the Advanced Form, and will happily enter a name into the Basic Form on the screen. 

Trying to act like a beginning user, here is what I might do:

1)  Here is the Home screen with the Basic Search Form (with my Isaac Seaver in the name fields):

Note that there is no "Exact matches" check box on this form.  A user can add a "place your ancestor might have lived" and an "Estimated birth year" to the fields below the name. There is a link to "Show Advanced" in the area above the search fields (on the right).

2)  I clicked on the orange "Search" button, and received this screen with matches:

The system found 295,194 matches for me (note the "Sorted by relevance" in the dropdown box on the Ine with the number of matches).  As an experienced user, I would probably click the down arrow next to "Sorted by relevance" and choose "Summarized by category," but I'll show that later).

Note that the list above is sorted by relevance - meaning how well the items match the search criteria - in this case, only the first name of "Isaac" and the last name of "Seaver."  The results use a "five-star" system that rates how the records found in the databases match the search criteria.  The ones with the most matches will be first - in this case, records that have Isaac and Seaver will receive three stars (why three and not two?  I don't know!).  First names with "I" instead of "Isaac" appear to be next (two-stars).  There are also "1.5 star" matches for "Isaac" and "Seaver" appearing in the same record separated by other words or names.  Other "1.5 star" matches are for "Isaac" and names similar to "Seaver" (the system uses Soundex rules).    After many (hundreds?) of these matches, there are more  "1.5 star" matches for "Seaver" with another first name, and "Isaac" only with another last name.  I didn't go through all 295,194 matches, and don't expect that anyone else will either.

The user needs a way to narrow the search.  One way is to select a set of records.  On the left side are record categories - census and voter lists; birth, marriage and deaths; and several others.   I can click on an item on the list to narrow my search to a specific record set.

3)  I chose the "Census and Voter Lists" from the above screen, and saw:

That worked, there are 28,049 matches in the Census and Voter Lists for Isaac Seaver. In order to get to a specific census, say 1850, I have to either scroll down the list of matches (which a Beginner is most likely to do) or I can select the year from the list on the left-hand side of the screen.

There is an even better way to narrow the search.

4)  The user can try to narrow the search by clicking on the green "Edit Search" link on the left-hand side below the words "Searching for" and a search window will appear:

There are more search fields in this window - Birth (year and location); Lived In (location); Any Event year and location; Family Member (Relationship, first name, last name); More (keyword); Gender; Race or Nationality.

I entered a birth year of 1823 into the Birth field, and clicked on "Search."

5)  The number of matches for Isaac Seaver born in 1823 in the Census records is down to 3,097:

My Isaac Seaver now shows up in the first 50 matches and I'm happy as a clam.  I think. 

6)  There is an alternative to using the on "Edit Search" button - to use the "Hot Keys" list below the list of  "Narrow by Category" on the left-hand side of the screen.  The Hot Keys are:

Using the keyboard, a user can hit the "n" key and receive a new search screen.  The user can Refine the present search (meaning they can edit the current information and/or add information to narrow the search) by hitting the "r" key, can preview the current record with the "p" key, or highlight the next or previous record.

I find the "r" key (to Refine the search" very useful - I use it rather than click on the "Edit Search" button.  The same "Search" window shown in 4) above comes up so that I can edit and/or add information to the search fields.

7)  Another option for using the Basic Search form is to add as much known information as possible - if I had added the birth date (1823) and birth location (Massachusetts) on the very first screen above, the results page looks like this:

There are "only" 48,642 matches, but the top 20 or 30 matches are for my Isaac Seaver.  There is a lesson learned here!
The drawbacks of using the Basic Search form in New Search are:

*  The user cannot specify an Exact Search at any time.
*  The default Search is a ranked Search which provides many matches - it often seems like searching for a needle in a haystack.
*  The "Sorted by Relevance" is the default result.

Although it is not obvious to a Beginning user, the user can narrow the search by adding information using the "Edit Search" button or the "r" Hot Key; and can use wild cards in the names in the search fields (which results in more matches, of course!).  The Hot Keys work only in New Search. 

As you can see, even the Basic Search Form can be quite complicated!  It takes a significant learning curve for a user to figure out  how to effectively search Ancestry.com.

If a user is using the Basic Search form, the best way to find matches relatively quickly is to add the names, the birth date, and a residence (usually a state) in the very first Basic Search form screen on the Home page or the Search tab page.  If there are way too many matches, then the user should select "Summarize by Category" rather than "Sorted by Relevance" on the Results page in order to narrow the search to a specific record type (e.g., census) and specific database (e.g., 1850).

We'll look at the Old Search in the next post in this series.

Disclosure: I am not an employee, affiliate or contractor for Ancestry.com, although I have accepted travel expenses and gifts from them in the past. I have a U.S. Deluxe Subscription that I pay for myself.

The URL for this post is http://www.geneamusings.com/2011/05/navigating-ancestrycom-post-2-new.html

(c) 2011. Randall J. Seaver. All Rights Reserved. If you wish to re-publish my content, please contact me for permission, which I will usually grant. If you are reading this on any other genealogy website, then they have stolen my work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope Old Search doesn't go away. My American relatives are descendants of immigrants from eastern Europe. I'm usually the first to apply corrections to transcription errors and mis-spellings in the records.
I've tried - there is often no way I can recognize the right entry in New Search. I have to get creative and look for entire family groups together, try all kinds of wildcard combinations, etc. And each database has its own quirks, especially when dealing with the immigrant generation.
B.G. Wiehle