Monday, July 1, 2013

How I Search on "New Search" - Post 1: Name and Locality Filters

As more readers (those special 2% of all Ancestry searchers, but which seems like about 50% of Genea-Musings readers) use "New Search" I am going to write some posts about how I use "New Search."

As I noted in an earlier post, the search algorithms on's "New Search" are the most complex and sophisticated in the genealogy world.  They have many bells and whistles, which results in a lot of complexity, but also a lot of flexibility and capability.  "Old Search" has only "Default" and "Exact" matches, and collection lists.

In this post, I want to discuss the Given Name, Last Name and Locality search filters.

1)  Starting on the "Search" tab in, and using the "Advanced Search" form:

Note that, on the screen above, there are options for:

*  Match all terms exactly
*  Link for given name settings
*  Link for last name settings
*  Event (birth, death, etc.) settings
*  Event year settings (e.g., Birth, plus/minus N years)
*  Event location, with locality settings
*  Other settings - keywords, gender, race/nationality, collections, etc.

2)  I wanted to search for records for Isaac Seaver (1823-1901), born in Massachusetts.  I entered Given name = "isaac" and Last name = "seaver."

For the Given Name "filter," I clicked on the "Use default settings" link below the given name field.  The dropdown menu for the given names was shown:

The choices for Given Name "filters" are:

*  Use default settings
*  Restrict to exact matches and:
**  Phonetic matches
** Names with similar meanings or spellings
** Records where only initials are recorded

There is a link for "About These Settings" which explains the settings in more detail.  I clicked on several of the options (Restrict to exact, Phonetic, Similar, and Initials).  That covers Isac, Isack, I., etc.

The "Similar" names come from a list compiled by Ancestry - they have said in the past that a similar name list for "Catherine" has over 800 entries.

3)  For the Last Name "filter,"  I clicked on the "Use default settings" link below the last name field.  The dropdown menu for the last names was shown:

The choices for Last Name "filters" are:

*  Use default settings (essentially Soundex)
*  Restrict to exact matches and:
** Soundex matches
** Phonetic matches
**  Names with similar meaning or spellings

There is a link for "About These Settings" which explains the settings in more detail.  I clicked on several of the options (Restrict to exact, Phonetic and Similar).  That covers Sever, Sevier, Severe, etc.  It doesn't cover all possible variations.

4)  For the Event field, I chose "Birth," entered a birth year of 1823 with plus or minus 2 years (to limit the search to 1821-1825), and then started typing "Massachusetts" in the Location field: has a Locality catalog (supposedly with all city/town, county/province, country jurisdictions) that they use to standardize the search.

When I started typing "Massac" the potential localities came up in a list.  Fortunately, "Massachusetts, USA" was the first one listed.  You have to click on it to get it into the Locality field.

5)  There is a Locality "filter" also - I clicked on the "Use default settings" link below the Locality field.  The dropdown menu for the locality filter was shown:

The Locality "filter options are:

*  Use default settings
*  Restrict to the place exactly Or restrict to just:
** State/adjacent states (if a US state)
** Country (if a US state)

There is a link for "About These Settings" which explains the settings in more detail.  I clicked on the "Restrict to exact" option (because I know he was born in that place).

6)  I'm done with my search fields - it took maybe 20 seconds at most to do.  Here is the completed Search form:

7)  The orange "Search" button is further down the page (or you can put the cursor in a field) and click on "Enter").  Here are the search results:

The search terms are listed in the left-hand column - exact match information has "quotes" around them.  If I want to edit the search, I can click on the green "Edit Search" button and edit any fields (there are also "Shortcut Keys" - we'll cover those in a later post.

There were only 236 matches for my search terms, and I can go through each category and specific databases looking for "my" Isaac Seaver.

Note that the results above are on the "Categories" tab - if I choose the "Records" tab, I got these matches:

There were only 120 matches (I don't know why yet!), and "my" Isaac Seaver were the first 31 matches (including many of the photos I've uploaded to my Ancestry Member Trees.

8)  This is how I start my search process when I know a given name, a last name, a birth year and a birth place.  If I don't find what I want, then I expand the birth year range, and then go to wild cards.

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


Unknown said...

Thanks...I can see how this can be useful, especially if it will pick up Phebe and Phoebe [for example] in a single search! But for most of my searches it is VERY time consuming to have to check off all the options in order to force it to do what old search does, and old search gives the best results for my most frequent searches. If I switch back and forth my speed dial census search forms land on new search and have to be reset...also time consuming. I am going to try to see if I can get new search only in one browser while old search is open in another.

Anonymous said... has sticky searches, so all the filters you set will remain until you clear them. To clear all filters at one time you need to place a checkmark in the box next to "match all terms exactly" and then remove the checkmark from the box. This will set all filters back to default and you can start a fresh search.

John said...

I would find the phonetic option for surnames very helpful if I could turn off Soundex and implement one of their other Phonetic Algorithms in its place.

But when they do implement the other algorithms, it's in addition to Soundex, and I sometimes have to scroll through thousands of names that aren't really phonetic matches for the surnames I'm searching for, and are only listed due to Soundex's limitations.

It also bothers me that checking the phonetic box only means that it provides Ancestry the option to use these alternate algorithms if Ancestry has determined the algorithm is appropriate for a particular database. The researcher isn't allowed to determine if an algorithm is appropriate or not. If the algorithm is encoded into Ancestry's software it ought to be useable in any database at the discretion of the user.