Monday, March 24, 2014

Revisiting and Debating's "Primary Search" Features

I had several challenging and helpful comments on my blog post Ancestry Drops "Old Search" - Hysteria Ensues (posted 7 March 2014).  Here are some of them, with my comments, if needed, added:

1)  Anonymous commented:  "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 responded with:  "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."

Paul K. Graham tried to help with:  "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."

My comments:  I think that Paul is exactly right with his two observations - restricting a place name to a country, or state, or county will eliminate the matches from other countries, and using the "Category" tab will sort the matches by record type and database.  I also like Paul's suggestion that the Category tab be enabled to sort alphabetically by database title.  

I tried to help Anonymous out with hias search for Michael in Jones County.  Here is my search box with "Match all items exactly" checked, with Michael as a First name, with no last name, and with the "Any Event" location with Jones County, Georgia about to be selected:

And the results, in "Category" tab format, are:

I don't understand what Anonymous was trying to say about Newspaper matches.  Was that a search for "Michael" or was it a search for another name?  When I receive Newspapers, each page with my search criteria appears on the match list and I can look at one, come back to the match list, and look at the next one.  

2)  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 instrumental 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."

My comments:  Lynn may have the "Family Trees" unchecked in his search box.  I don't know.

I did a similar task as Lynn last year, knowing that this would be an issue soon, and received results with the exact same parameters and got very similar results.  My blog posts that covered this are:

I summarized my conclusions from all of the comparisons in Ancestry Drops "Old Search" - Hysteria Ensues.

In one of the posts, I noted:  "The point here is to show that 'New Search' finds essentially the same results as 'Old Search' does, no matter what search field parameters are used.  It's imperative for the user to understand what search field parameters they used.  If the user is not getting expected results, then they should look critically at their search field parameters.

"The fix for the 'Exact Match' problem noted above is to use wild cards for the names (to handle name spelling problems) and to narrow the search using birth years, or death years, or birth or death places, or relative names, etc. in your search."

3)  Reader ~B noted:  "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."

My comments:  Concerning the first issue, can someone point to incomplete databases on  How do you know that they are not complete?  Is there a list somewhere?

On the second issue, I'm not aware of problems with the new viewer.  Can you describe what they are?  Have they been addressed in the Ancestry/RootsWeb message board system?

I am concerned with the Slider problems that were introduced at the same time as "Old Search" was eliminated.  It seemed to me that the sliders often did not reflect my selections on the search form and the results were inconsistent.  This may have caused some of the problems and complaints that :Old Search" users had when they had to use "New Search."  I  haven't received any indication that the Slider problems have been addressed or fixed from, although they told me that they were aware of the problems and were working on them.

4)  Anonymous said:  "New search makes me furious. It's like shooting with .000 buckshot. One pellet may hit the mark, but in the meantime you have to wade through thousands of useless bits of info. When I say I want to search the United States, I want to search the United States, not Canada and England as well. Likewise, 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 country. Old search was bad about that, too. 

"New search seems designed specifically to impress everyone with the size of it its database, not to give useful information. 

"New Search has rendered the way i prefer to search virtually useless. I search individual databases, and access to those are severely limited on New Search.  New search is geared to those interested in gathering names and not to actually gathering information.   Pray God new search is short lived."

My comments:  You can select one country to search for records, and even select one state and one county.  You need to use the Advanced Search form to do so - it's at (the "Search" tab).   Old search had the same feature.

The size of the "database" didn't change when "Old Search" was dropped and "New Search" was made "Primary Search."  Both search engines searched the same databases - all 31,000 plus of them.  

You can find matches in individual databases in the "Category" tab on the search results page.  It looks just like what was in "Old Search"  when you did "Exact" matches.  See my screen shot above. calls THE present search function "Primary Search" rather than "New Search."  We all had five years to learn how to use it.  We also had warnings that "Old Search" was going to be eliminated.  

I think that "Primary Search" is geared to all researchers who want to find records for their ancestral families.  Everything they've done has been to target records in places in time frames for searchers.  I think they've done a great job of it (well, except for the Sliders!).  However, you have to understand all of the features and options that are offered, and that takes some time to learn and master.  

5)  Reader Laura captured my thoughts wonderfully, saying:  "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."


Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver


Lynn David said...

Nope.... I was doing a "global search" and it wasn't returning any matches with people in my tree. And one time it will return the church records in St Louis that helped me locate the Belgian home of an ancestor and one time under the same parameters (sliders not moved) it will not. It's nothing I am doing, the New Search seems to be schizophrenic!

Btw... I'm male, you're not the first, you won't be the last!

Anonymous said...

The problem I have had with the viewer is that when looking at US Census records after the image appears on the screen, I move the image with the hand to look for the information and the image disappears. I hit the refresh button on the browser the image reappears and the viewer seems to work after that.

Randy Seaver said...

Lynn, sorry about the his/her issue...thanks for telling me. I fixed it.

The only way for me, or Ancestry, to check out your search problem is for you to tell us what you are searching for - first name, last name, any birth or death year, and birth or death location, what name and location filter options, exact match or not, etc.

I'll be happy to try to duplicate your search and see what comes up.

Thanks -- Randy

Lauri said...

I was an old search user and loved i. I am getting used to the new search and this is what I am finding when I'm not getting the results I think I should. The sliders are fine, but you sometimes need to go into Edit Search and look at exactly what all is checked and what other information is there. I have found that it sometimes has data from a prior search that causes the problem such as family member names and other dates and locations.

Lynn said...

I just now carried out a search on Ancestry for a 2xGrGrandfather for whom I am my own reference in an article in Belgian Laces (BL). I wanted to find out which volume & number of BL in which I had written that article. Ok - there are easier ways of finding that out, such as looking in my own records on that ancestor. But I wanted to know what Ancestry Search would return.

So I imput his first two names and his surname, his birthdate, his year of emigration (both with 5 year lee-ways), and also that he lived in Knox County, Indiana (as that was what the BL aticle was about Belgians in the county. What did those *general* imputs? 44 entries under Immigration and Travel. Not a one with the surname Buisseret or DeBuisseret. Then I add in his wife's name and what do I get? 664 entries under Immigration and Travel.

Why does a more general search result in less entries than one which is more specific? It makes no sense and defies logic. It makes one work for a search which is fruitful. It's why I say that the new Ancestry Search is schizophrenic. It's worse than trying to get a truth out of a madman to make a gross analogy.

Lynn David said...

A better descriptor of the new search is that it is counter-intuitive. That is an adjective which was never meant to be associated with computers &/or computing.