Friday, March 7, 2014

Ancestry Drops "Old Search" - Hysteria Ensues

I haven't seen an official announcement about this yet, unless you count the one back in June 2013 that announced the eventual demise, but dropped the "Old Search" function recently.  

The Ancestry Insider wrote about this last month in Old Search Retirement, Pays Down Technical Debt.

A lot of my Facebook Friends, and many more on the Facebook Group Page and the Ancestry Site Comments Message Board, are complaining that the "Old Search" is gone, and that they don't like the "New Search."  Some have cancelled their subscription, and some advocate boycotting for a week.  Here's a gravestone that reader Talbotrail back in June 2013:

My own feelings about this are mixed - I understand the "lost" and "frustrated" feeling that "it's not like it used to be, " "I have to learn how do something differently," and "I'll show them - I'll quit or boycott them."  But change happens...

I continue to believe that the "New Search" (actually the only search now) is the most powerful, most comprehensive, most flexible, most complicated and most misunderstood set of search features I've seen in the genealogy world.  I embrace it, and try to use every feature I find on the website, in order to maximize the value of my subscription (yes, I pay for my own, so that I can objectively write about it).

To that end, and to help my genealogist colleagues, I wrote a series of posts about Ancestry "New Search" vs. "Old Search" back in 2013.  Here is a list of some of the posts for your reading pleasure (I know, they're long, and detailed, that's me.  Enjoy!):

*  Comparing "Old Search" and "New Search" Results on (28 June 2013)

*  Is this the Problem Users Have with's "New Search?" (28 June 2013)

*  How I Search on "New Search" - Post 1: Name and Locality Filters (29 June 2013)

*  Searching Records From Within An Ancestry Member Tree (2 July 2013)

*  Comparing "Old Search" and "New Search" Results on - Exact Matches (5 July 2013)

*  Another "Old Search" vs. "New Search" Comparison (4 September 2013)

*  Ancestry "Old Search" and "New Search" Comparison with Exact Matches (5 September 2013)

* "New Search" Results With Wild Card Names (6 September 2013)

All of my posts about are in my label file - 599 of them to date!

Most of those posts listed above generated a number of reader comments.  I responded to many of them in some of my Follow Friday posts (they are in the label file also).

During those months of working and comparing "Old Search" with "New Search," I drew several conclusions, including:

*  Exact searches in "New Search" cannot be done from the Home page, but can be done on the "Advanced Search" page and "Search" tab.
*  The user can pick either the "Records" view tab (which looks like the "Ranked Matches" results in "Old Search") or the "Categories" view tab (which looks like the "Old Search" Exact Match results) on the search results page.

*  "New Search" found more applicable matches for the requested name, and different records, than "Old Search."
*  The number of matches found for "my guy" in "New Search" were the same records found in "Old Search," but were in a different order in the Match list.

*  The "Records" view list in "New Search" Matches put records for "my guy" near the top of the list.
*  The "Records" view list, in either "New Search" or "Old Search," did not find records for "my guy" that had different indexed name spellings that did not match in Soundex. 

*  For results with many matches, the "Categories" view might be easier to work with than the "Records" view.

*  Searchers should not totally rely on the "Records" view search results with only a name and birth year/place.  A wild card search and a wider birth year range would have found missed records.

*  Different wild card searches in "New Search" produce different results.  In general, the more characters you use, the fewer matches you receive. 
*  If the user uses too many alphabetical characters in a Wild Card search, all of the relevant results may be limited even with wild cards.

*  Narrowing the search using "not exact" dates and locations drives the relevant matches for the target person to the top of the "Records" view match list.

*  Narrowing the search using "exact" dates and locations may miss relevant records.
*  If the results do not find an expected record in a specific database for the target person, then search that database separately and use all of the tricks (exact name, wild cards, expand the date range, remove birthplace, first name only in a county, etc.) one at a time or in combination. 

*  "New Search" is complex, and needs to be practiced and learned on a regular basis.  If you are paying for an subscription, you should be willing to invest enough time to learn how to use it efficiently and effectively. provides many helpful articles on their Blog and on video on the YouTube Channel.  Please go read and watch those articles and videos to help you adjust to "New Search."

After over 5 years of getting to know, and, in some cases, consulting with them at conferences or meetings or phone calls, I know that personnel really want the customer to succeed at finding genealogical records pertinent to their ancestors.  Everything they've done has been intended to make the user experience better.  They've been willing to listen to "Old Search" advocates, and have added features that look and work like "Old Search" to "New Search."  Their customer base is very diverse geographically, agewise, in technological expertise, and in genealogical research experience.  They can't have one user experience for me, and one for Elizabeth, and one for Vladimir and one for Rafael.  

Like life, change happens.  Without change there is no progress, but not all change results in progress.  My opinion is that "New Search" is progress, and will continue to be improved and changed over time.  

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Unknown said...

Thanks for this useful round-up, Randy!

Bill West said...

I find it frustrating, hard to use, and not user friendly. It is no longer a pleasurable experience for me there.
I've unsubscribed from If that's hysteria, so be it.

Anonymous said...

With the old search, I search for a person in a particular census in a particular county just by first name or by birthplace. This was invaluable when looking for relatives whose names were misspelled. Now when I search for Michael in Jones County, AR, I get results from Australia and Wyoming. My biggest beef is getting a kazillion hits in Las Vegas newspapers when I specifically narrow the search to another city and I can't skip forward through them, I can only go page by page. I plan to unsubscribe because there's no point in having the subscription if I can't narrow the results to ones that might be pertinent to me.

Tessa Keough said...

Wondering about Anonymous' comment as there is no reference to a Jones County in Arkansas. When I do that search in Ancestry, it clearly tells me where there are Jones Counties AND if I am asking for records in the United States and/or Census records, I can easily limit it to just those records. It does not bring back data from Wyoming or Australia. What was the exact search Anonymous was doing - I think some of this might be user error rather than Ancestry error.

Bill West said...

I think he meant Jones County Arizona and used the wrong abbreviation for the state in his post.

Lynn David said...

I have tried to reproduce results with the exact same parameters and I have gotten completely different returns. Moreover, I cannot get similar returns for past searches which provided information which was instrumenetal in discovering European origins for an immigrant ancestor. I can't even get some search returns for my own public trees. Christa Cowen better have a good talk in mind to explain what we might be doing wrong.

Paul K. Graham said...

By recreating the search, I think there are two thing that Anonymous needs to be aware of. There are a lot of valid argument for what's good and bad, but this is the reality of what's been implemented.

First, getting hits from all over the world results from choosing "Use default settings" with the place name. If you "Restrict to this place exactly" the results will only be for that place. I personally use "restrict to county/adjacent counties" most often. Make sure to use the drop-down list to pick your place, rather than typing it free-form.

Second, having to browse page by page through all the results means Anonymous was using the "Records" view in the results area. If Anonymous clicked on the "Category" tab at the top of the results, they would see the results organized by record type and database.

Even in the Records view, you can use the filters on the left side to drill down into specific record types.

One of the things I don't like is that the Category view is sorted by number of matches. That means if you don't search exact place, the irrelevant matches from big collections float to the top. Using exact place removes that problem.

I liked the old Category view because it could be sorted alphabetically by database title. The new system doesn't give you any choice in that. It's frustrating, but you can work around it by learning how to create more targeted searches.

Laura said...

When new search was added, I started using it.

The deletion of the old Search has no effect on me as I am already used to the new search because I am already familiar with the new and now like it better than the old search with the improvements that have been made.

I try to view change in anything as an opportunity to learn something new. Life is too short to go through it frustrated because of changes.

Unknown said...

Bill West.. I live in Arizona. There is no Jones Co. here. There is a Jones Co., Georgia.

CJackson said...

I searched for my family in the "Web: Hancock County, Ohio, Obituary Index, 1808-2010" database (using a variety of search parameters) and came up with zero matches, which wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact that I know for certain there should be multiple hits, having used that database many, many times before.

Additionally, if you follow that database back to its source and search from there, bingo! There's my family.

If my family doesn't appear where they SHOULD, where else might they be missing? This is highly disappointing... not sure that Ancestry is worth the subscription price any longer.

~B said...

I don't have a big problem with them changing things as long as it's not just change for changes sake. I'd rather see them put the resources into completing databases they've been supposedly going to complete for a long time now.

I do however object when they change things and it doesn't work properly. I don't know how many problems there are with the new search, but I know some aren't getting results when they did with the old. It's like when they went to the new viewer. While it was in beta problems were pointed out time and again. They acknowledged it was a problem but forced use of the new viewer anyway and still haven't fixed the problems although they say they will someday.

Anonymous said...

New search makes me furious. It like shooting with .000 buckshot. One pellet may hit the mark, but in the meantime you have to wade through thousands of uselessbits of infi. When I say I want to search the United States, I want to search the United States, not Canada and England as well. Likewase, when I say I want to search a state, I want to search that state and not get results for ever other state in the counbtry. Old search was bad about that, too.

New search seeams designed specifically to imoress everyone with the size of it its database, not to give useful informatio.

New Search has rendered the way i orefer to search virtually useless. I search individual databases, and access t those are severeky limited on New Search.

New search is geared to those interested in gathering names and not to actually gathering iionformation.

Pray God new search is short lived.

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