Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ancestry's Wild Card Search is Still Broken For Me - Please Fix It!

I posted's Wild Card Search Is Broken - Please Fix It! back on 15 November 2012.  In that post, I demonstrated that, for some reason,'s global search was not working properly when using wild cards, at least for some names.  Michael John Neill had the same experience around the same time, and recently posted again about the problem.  I had an email from an employee who said they would look into it, but I've heard nothing back since then.

Since then, I've checked almost every day with my isa* sea* (Isaac Seaver, and other variants) using both Chrome (my preferred browser on my desktop using Windows 7) and Firefox (my preferred browser on my desktop using Windows XP), and nothing has changed.

I used other names today, and here are the results:

1)  Using First Name = "joh*":

That worked - over 488 million matches returned in less than ten seconds!

2)  Using First name = "joh*" and Last name = "smi":

That worked too!!  Over 2.8 million matches in less than 6 seconds!  Is the problem fixed?

3)  Using first name = "joh*" and Last name = "sea*":

That didn't work.  It took five seconds to tell me that there were too many matches.  Really?  How can it be more than 2.8 million matches for those search terms?

4)  Using First name = "joh*" and Last name = "seav*":

That worked, resulting in over 18,000 matches in less than two seconds.  So if I use 4 letters in the surname, the global wild card search appears to work.

5)  Using First name = "john" and Last name = "car*":

That didn't work, I don't know why!  Same problem as with "sea*".  So some three letter wild cards work, and some don't work.

6)  Using First name = "joh*" and Last name = "*ver":

That worked!  Why?  There must be many more matches for "*ver" than for "sea*".

7)  Using first name = "joh*" and Last name = "s*v*r":

That worked also.

Isn't this strange?  There is something in Ancestry's search algorithms (biorhythms?) that make the "Too many matches" screen come up for some global wild card searches and not on others.

8)  Note that I am using the "Summarized by category" results screen on the searches above.  When I change over to the "Sorted by relevance" results screen, go back to the Home page, and use First name = "joh*" and Last name = "sea*" I get this result:

That worked.  476,000 matches.  The search criteria are exactly the same as 3) above.  Why?  Does use different algorithms for "Sorted by relevance" and "Summarized by category" results?

9)  I have noted that wild card searches on specific databases always work (as long as I obey the wild card rules).

10)  It seems to me that this problem of three-letter wild cards occurs for some names and not for other names when the "Summarized by category" result screen is used.  Is it random?  If it was, it would not work for "smi*" some percentage of the time, and would work for "sea*" some percentage of the time. I got matches for "smi*" ten tries in a row, and did not get matches for "sea*" twenty tries in row.  So it doesn't seem random.

11)  Do you get the same results as I do with a First name = "joh* and Last name = "sea*"?  If so, which search results setting was used, and which browser and operating system are you using?

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Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Andrew Hatchett said...

gazerlm 120Randy, what I have found is that when you get that error message about too many wildcards if you simply click the oragne "SEARCH" button at the bottom of that page it sometimes yields results. It may take clicking it 3-4 times but I usually get them. I'm using Vista Home Premium, and latest updated Firefox.

Candace said...

With search joh* sea* I got 731,626 hits, summarized by category. Using Chrome V23 on Windows 7.

Susan Park said...

I'm with Candace. I got the same result using the same equipment/software. I also tried isa* sea* and got a big number of hits.

Dona said...

I got the same results as you did, Randy, with the two different sorting methods. I'm on a Mac, using Chrome.