Thursday, April 18, 2013

Is FamilySearch De-emphasizing Genealogical Research?

FamilySearch modified their website design on Tuesday (see FamilySearch Unveils Their New Website Design), and in the process confused many genealogical researchers by changing the navigation to certain pages on the site.

Serious genealogical researchers and geneabloggers have lamented the difficulty in accessing the Research Wiki, the Record Collections page, the Research Courses, and more.  Not only is the navigation to these pages different, they now require more mouse clicks.  For instance:

*  James Tanner says " ...  if you look at the startup page for a while, you will see that there are almost no links to any of the research resources of the website at all except user submitted areas such as photos, family tree and indexing. There are two links to the search screen for Historical Record Collections and other resources, but nothing to tell you what or how to search."

*  Lee Drew says:  "The little touted but widely acclaimed Research Wiki was hard to find on the old site design but the new design has pushed it farther into the background.  In fact, it has been pushed so far out of the stream of relevance that few site visitors will find it.  Links to the wiki have gone from two clicks to four."

*  DearMYRTLE says:  "In this day and age, bookmarks on a specific computer should not be the mainstay for Internet researchers. 

"I've heard FS engineers say there is only a small segment of potential users who are serious researchers and that the thrust now is to reach those who have photos and stories."

The new FamilySearch home page requires one mouse click to go to "Family Trees," "Photos" and "Search" (the links on the line with the logo).  A click to pick the large image frame and then another click can take the user to their "Fan Chart," "Photos," "Family Tree," "Family Records," "Indexing" or "Live Help."  

 If a user goes to "Search" or "Family Records," they have to scroll down to the Collections list in order to click on the "Browse All Published Collections" or a locality to get to the Historical Record Collections.  Three clicks - it should be ONE!  That's two more clicks than before.  

Why is that important?  Because only some of the historical record collections are searchable from the Search page.  I usually start at the Historical Record Collections page rather than the Home page.  

To get to the Research Courses (which I do almost every day), I have to click on the "Live Help" button on the Home page, then the "Get Help" button in the image, and then on the "Learning Center" "Take a Course" link.  Three clicks - it should be ONE!  It used to be two clicks.

To get to the Research Wiki (which I do almost every day), I have to click on the "Live Help" button on the Home page, then  the "Get Help" button in the image, then the "Research Assistance" and then the "Visit the Research Wiki" link.  Four clicks - it should be ONE!  It used to be two clicks.  

You get the idea, I hope.  My genealogy work life does not need extra clicks (carpal tunnel, anyone?) or time wasted waiting for three or four web pages to load.  My work-around is to put all of the important links (to me) in my Bookmarks and go directly to the pages, bypassing the FamilySearch Home page.

What about beginners new to the FamilySearch website?  They may be attracted to the beautiful web pages, but what should they do once they get there?  Are they expected to thrash around and finally figure out that they should call the 1-866 number at FamilySearch for basic help?  Maybe 20% of the beginners will do that, and the other 80% will just think "I don't have time for this."

I work with beginning and experienced researchers in my local society, and most of them will be confused by the burial of really useful links deep in the FamilySearch website.  After three years of trying to lead them to the great FamilySearch record collections, Wiki, Courses, Catalog, etc. (and it's not been easy), I'll have to start over. [Aside:  I need to totally revamp my "FamilySearch: The Very Best FREE Genealogy Website" presentation now...]

What should be done?  I suggested on Google+ yesterday that:

"A simple listing of the major pages on the home page, near the top, would be really useful.  Even a two-tier link set where Family Tree, Photos and Search are now located.  I want to be able to go to the home page and click once and be in the Family Tree, the Record Search, the Collection page, the Research Wiki, the Research Courses, Getting Started, the Catalog, Indexing, the Blog, etc"

So how hard would it be to satisfy the serious genealogical researchers AND the beginners wanting to add photos and stories to the Family Tree and the FamilySearch web page designers?  Would this be feasible:

Yes, just add a ribbon of Links to the FamilySearch pages that are really important to genealogical researchers. Even two lines to add more links.  That would make me ecstatic.  Oh, I'd like that link ribbon on the major genealogical pages also so that I can go, with one click, to the Library Catalog, or to the Research Wiki, etc.  

To answer my rhetorical question:  No, I don't think that FamilySearch is de-emphasizing genealogical research.  I do think that they've identified Photos and Stories as a way to bring new generations of people interested in their family history, perhaps not genealogists, to FamilySearch and the Family Tree.  In that regard, their no different from Ancestry, MyHeritage, Geni, and a number of other online family tree websites that encourage their users to add names, dates, places, stories, photos, etc. to their trees.

Of course, we all hope that those new generations become intrigued by what they find, educate themselves online or in local genealogical societies, and become genealogists.  In order for that to happen, there needs to be education on the FamilySearch sites, and that goal should make the Beginners information, the Research Wiki and the Research Courses critical to achieving their goal.  

Please, FamilySearch, don't hide your shining lights under a blanket of  web page clicks - it's self-defeating.  

DearMYRTLE, Russ Worthington, Laurie Haldeman-Lambe and I discussed this yesterday in a Google+ Hangout "Exploring the FamilySearch Redesign" - you can watch it on YouTube at

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Unknown said...

wonderful summary of our thoughts

If you look at you see hover over menu that only takes one bar on the screen and expands to things like their wiki so you only need one click.

sime wheels dont need to be reinvented.

congrats on the little summaries and big photos on the home page. these may highlight things for beginners to try, but at you said we need the links too

i like that they made it more mobile friendly. try it on your android or iphone web browser and you dont have to zoom to read the page. some pages dont work that way yet.

Elizabeth Handler said...

Can I also add that trying to find out the status of an order of microfilm is almost impossible. I very occasionally order a microfilm (not everything is digitized, especially from 19th century Hungary) and trying to figure out where to go to find the status is almost impossible. I'm glad I got an email with a link to the page showing the updated status.

New researchers need to know that not all records are digitized and online and the FHL microfilms are such a valuable resource! (Admittedly not free, but very low cost for going back a couple of generations in my husband's Jewish genealogy!)

Janet Iles said...

I am finding the new website layout very confusing. When I see Live Help, I think of live chat and I was looking for something last night, I thought this is not what I want. Thanks to your instructions I found the wiki and then England then the maps and then the interactive map. A site menu with links to the different areas would be so helpful and it would get you to where you want to go quite quickly.

Not everyone has high speed connections so every click takes time.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to utilize the new website or even look at it. How disappointing that, rather than emphasizing research, they are more interested in sharing stories, family trees, etc. While this is a lovely idea, it does not appeal to everyone.

Why not make room for *both* research and community/sharing on their front page?

Amy Sue Smith said...

Great post. I appreciate all the links. I didn't realize that not all of the resources on FamilySearch were not actually searchable from the front page search box, so now I will have to re-think my search strategies and re-examine what is there.

JG in MD said...

Clicks? It's not just clicks. It's I can't possibly remember how to get through to where I want to go. Surely not everyone can remember exactly how to traverse a series of menus every time they want to see something on FamilySearch.

Patrick Liechty said...

I am a developer. I have posted on my blog a response to this blog post. This is good feedback that we can use to make the site better.

Jacqi Stevens said...

Randy, you bring up valid points--reminds me of an unrelated but similar scenario: right now, we are college shopping for my daughter, who is considering history as her major. One university's approach seemed to be, "Come join our department--you'll have lots of fun." I cannot begin to explain what a turn off that approach was, in effect dismantling the effect of all the carefully-crafted website messages we'd seen in their site over the years.

Why do businesses feel the compulsion to market themselves as "fun" and inviting? Does a brain surgeon plaster such tag lines onto his or her CV? Yes, genealogy can be fun...but that is not the primary reason I go first to I go there because I want to find documents. Or read up on new territory through their helpful wikis. Yes, I appreciate the bright new look of their landing page, the inviting colors and the aesthetics of the website appearance. But once I understand the value of what lies behind that front door, I find myself a lot more forgiving of any speck of dust on the welcome mat. I don't want to linger in the entry way. I want to step inside, roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Your bookmarking idea makes sense--to bypass all the hoopla of the bright shinies on the front page. Adding a ribbon of links--a researcher's highway, so to speak--would be a helpful tool for those who appreciate the true worth of all the material hidden behind that colorful front door.

Anonymous said...

In the browse only records I often find it helpful to highlight the entire list of volumnes and cut/paste to an excel spreadsheet.

This way I can highlight the specific volumnes to search, make notes who I'm researching, or image/page numbers, etc. It's an extra step but can be saved to my own working file.

Also having 2 or more tabs open then toggling back & forth helps especially with some of the states where the data is not aligned well with vol/year/page listings.

I've found many documents for CA, OK, WA where the info just seems to be buried there somewhere.

Root Digger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Root Digger said...

I am still trying to figure out this new site.

To me the site does seem to de-emphasize research. I feel like I am in one of those photo album social network programs.

If I was not familiar with what Family Search has to offer, I wouldn't know exactly what I am looking for

T said...

I'm still waiting for the web site to be research friendly.

Right now it's too much like Pinterest and not enough like a research site. I used to go there every day. Now I check in once a month to see if it's still the same old billboard or if it's been changed to a library. Very disappointed to see the same old billboard. Searching there is such a waste of time, I rarely try.

T said...

One other thing about the web site beautification project. To me "Help" means I need to talk to someone about a problem I'm having at the site. It does NOT mean I'm looking for the links to resources. It's not helpful to be so unique that no one knows how to navigate the site.