Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Are There Search Problems on Ancestry.com? - UPDATED

I, and many other researchers, have been frustrated by the "search" problems that proliferated in recent months on Ancestry.com.  A review of the Ancestry.com Facebook group page reveals a number of complaints of trees gone missing (temporarily?), strange and inconsistent search results, record images linked incorrectly, etc.  The problems seem to have been exacerbated over the past two months.

A)  We discussed this on the 23 April Mondays With Myrt webinar and several comments were made by the panelists and the viewers, including:

*  Ancestry.com moved their entire server system, which housed all of their record collections and family trees, from an in-house server farm to Amazon Web Services Cloud, which is scalable.

*  A phone call to Ancestry by a user, which was referred to a manager, indicated that Ancestry.com fired their in-house IT department.  The manager said it would take up to four weeks to fix the problems.

UPDATED:  A comment from "Still here" on this post notes that:

"I work in the IT department at Ancestry and the in-house team was NOT fired, we are still here and working to solve the problems so that service will return to normal or better."

Thank you to "Still here" for the information. 

I don't know how accurate the above comments are, but if the comments are true then the recent problems may be related to them.

B)  One of my readers with database engineering and management experience made some comments in a Facebook message to me.  He works on Ancestry.com extensively in the records and his tree, and made these observations on Monday:

*  Unbelievably bad performance across the entire site (especially when new batches of DNA test results are being added to the database). Since processing costs increase exponentially as new tests are added to the database, and tests are selling very briskly, this problem is getting worse at an alarming rate. The site is virtually at a standstill this morning.

*  Query timeouts

*  Pages rendering with incomplete data (several data elements missing, presumably because the individual queries didn't come back in time - this also indicates very sloppy flow control - i.e., bad engineering)

*  Major inconsistency between the number of results shown on the search summary page and the actual number of results found on the detail page - I can see that some query parameters are no longer getting passed from the summary page to the detail page).

*  Defective sections in search summary result page (a section, e.g. family trees, will render without any information, and the link to the detail page renders no data, even though the search should have returned data).

*  Incongruity between redundant search datasets (e.g., you click on a tree in the "public trees" section of the search only to find the tree is actually private; or you do a search by surname in the DNA matches only to discover that some of the trees in the result set no longer have anyone with that surname).

*  Incomplete search results when you search by surname in the DNA cousin-matches. I used to get 15 pages of results when I search my matches for surname Hall, but lately I only get about 2-3 pages)

*  Cousin-match search by birth location returns very inaccurate results. If you also specify a surname, the results are complete nonsense. This has been broken for a few years now (if it ever worked).

*  While traversing from page to page in online trees, when I click on certain people, I get taken to a full-page ad trying to sell me a new membership, as if I were merely browsing as a visitor... while I am logged in! If I go back and forward a few times, it eventually takes me to the right place.

C)  I asked him for examples and he sent these examples in email.

1)   Subtotal on BMD section is incorrect (4 vs. 5).


2)  Summary page says there is a match in the SS Applications index, but detail page fails to find it:



3)  Search results incorrectly include private trees among the public tree results:




4)  Summary search results include family trees that have been deleted:




Upon further review, it looks like the tree is still there, but the URL in the search result was no good.  When a later search took me back to this same tree, I fund that the tree was actually there, and when I jumped to the person I was trying to access before, I found that she was still present in the tree, but the URL provided in the previous search was wrong.  Upon closer inspection, it appears that the user changed the person's name from Betsey to Betsy, and changed her birth date slightly, but the search results still had data for Betsey's old record which no longer exists.  Looks like they are having some real "transactional integrity" problems... bad engineering....



5)  My reader also has comments and screen captures from his DNA Match pages but I'm not going to show them because I don't want to reveal his or his matches identity.

D)  My comments are:

*  I have seen most of these problems also, and they've gotten more frequent over the past two months.  They are very frustrating when they occur on a regular basis.  Some are probably explainable by a tree being deleted or made private.

*  There may be more important issues with Ancestry.com search - if you have one, please make a comment to this post or send me an email with an example.

*  Sunday nights seem to be a real challenge.  I usually work in my Ancestry Member Tree Hints on Sundays, and last Sunday I had to reload a tree Hint page, and search result pages, five or six times before I received the requested results.

*  Most genealogy researchers with experience recognize how very difficult it is to keep things humming on a system with billions of records with customers expecting near-instantaneous results that provide results that are responsive to their search requests.

*  Most genealogy researchers recognize that Ancestry.com has the most complex and sophisticated search process and, when used consistently, finds records responsive to the search parameters used.

*  Customer expectations are high because of previous good experiences, and when customers are unhappy and frustrated, well, complaints happen.

*  I sincerely hope that Ancestry.com corrects their database and family tree search problems and provides the customer service at the highest level.

*  I have to believe that Ancestry.com is aware of these database and search problems and is trying to fix them.  However, they have not been very transparent in the face of complaints like the above and on Facebook.

E)  Thank you to my readers for their input.  Ancestry needs to hear these comments and reply with openness and truthfulness.  Please don't shoot at the messengers!

==============================================

The URL for this post is:  https://www.geneamusings.com/2018/04/are-there-search-problems-on-ancestrycom.html


Copyright (c) 2018, Randall J. Seaver

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36 comments:

The Down East Genealogist said...

Randy, I've been having a lot of issues with the site recently, particularly involving erratic behavior with the member family tree searches.

- Often search results will not show a "Family Trees" category in the "All Categories" list, but clicking on the Categories tab will show the category at the bottom of the page with links to Public and Private member trees.
- That link to the Public Trees may take you to the "All Family Trees results" page, or it may go to the "no results found" page (even when there are thousands of results).
- When a single "Matching Person" is shown at the top of the results page (which seems to be totally random whether one appears or not), clicking on the "See more like this..." link, again, may take you to the "All Family Trees results" page, or it may go to the "no results found" page.
- Sometimes when you do manage to get to the "All Family Trees results" page, there is no "All Categories " link under the Search Filters, so there is no way to get back to All Categories with your search criteria intact.
- The order in which the various trees appear seems to vary randomly for the same search.
- I've been getting the "Page not available" message more and more often, both with family trees and when attempting to view records from the search results list. Sometimes I can reload and the page comes up, more often I can't get to it at all. Once today a family tree page actually loaded, and then promptly disappeared to display the "Page not available" message.
- Some Find A Grave index results have bad links that open the wrong memorial on FindAGrave.com.

The most serious issue I have noted is one that appeared several times today: the All Family Trees results list showed full names for spouses and children who, upon opening the tree, were found to have "Private" (presumably living) profiles. Clearly Ancestry has a problem with their privacy settings! I'm planning to replace my online tree soon, and I'm going to privatize the living people in my GEDCOM, and not rely on Ancestry for privacy.

Tony Proctor said...

Sounds like the wrong team were fired (assuming that report is true). There should have been exhaustive QA (Quality Assurance) on such a major change, and yet it has resulted in a catastrophe where data access and Ancestry's reputation are concerned.

Sharon said...

I have posted many tweets on the subject over the last 14 days since the Search function has been practically unuseable.
I list no less than 7 search issues here
https://twitter.com/Ancestry/status/986173191470092288
The problems are tripling my research time.
Not a happy subscriber of 16 years.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the very informative report Randy and thanks to those that contributed info too. Although I primarily use FTM and not online Ancestry I too have noticed problems with both. My last sync failed and I am definitely waiting to re-upload until better reports are made!

Gloria Carbaugh said...

Randy, Thank you for summarizing all of this. The problem is even more wide spread than I had thought.

Yesterday, I received a list of hints for one of my trees. When I clicked through to check them, I was directed to the correct person, but the hint I expected to find was not there. I checked several. I also checked for the hints by viewing all hints for that tree. They did not appear. Finally, I went directly to the data base the hints was supposed to be in and searched for the individual, in this case, Pennsylvania Birth Records 1906 -... I got no results. Since I was not given the relationship of the named person, I just tossed the message at that point as it was worse than no help whatsoever. And yes, I've had the above mentioned problems with the actual search. It is most frustrating to be told there are 10 search results and then to only be shown 2, etc.

Ruth Craig said...

I have been having problems receiving an invitation from a client to his private tree. I hope to address his genealogical question for him, but the first step is to receive his invitation.
Also very frustrating, for me and for him.
I hope all of these issues get taken care of soon.

RonNasty said...

Great post, with well documented issues. I only hope that Ancestry does the right thing and responds to your claims and corrects the problem.

Marian Pierre-Louis said...

I have experienced all these same issues including the public/private tree issue which has me very worried about privacy. I was on the site this morning and had a difficult time because of all the errors and slow downs. Hope it gets fixed!

mbm1311 said...

The subject has been discussed on the genealogy sub reddit - with out your level of detail and insight. Ancestry corporate doesn't seem to publicly address questions and concerns. Many of us are noticing this, I wish corporate would describe the problems and say what they are doing to fix it. I'm encouraging ancestry to get some good PR help.

Midwest Ancestree said...

I have tried to work on my hints and get this message several times a day: "We’re experiencing technical difficulties. Please refresh this page to try again." Pretty frustrating. And, Yes, I have also experienced the disappearing trees! Gave me a heart attack the first time! But I refreshed and they were there again. Scary stuff.

Dick said...

I was talking to a friend this morning about the problems we both are having, and they seem to fall into two main categories, response time and search problems. Response time may be a function of the "pipe size" between Ancestry and their new server farm. If they don't have a big enough "pipe" everything slows down, and this may be the cause of the constant Orange status flag while trying to sync.

If you search Ancestry directly you get different results than when you do a Web Search thru FTM. The reason? Going thru FTM requires the API (Application Program Interface) between Ancestry and FTM. As a former computer programmer on large mainframe operating systems I am well familiar with the problem. The API interface MUST be well documented, no ifs, ands, or buts. Then the user program (here FTM) MUST follow those rules precisely. If Ancestry didn't publish the FULL and ACCURATE specs the fault is theirs. If FTM failed to precisely follow the specs when invoking the FTM -> Ancestry link, the fault is theirs. I don't know which one is at fault, but my money is on this as the root cause of all the underlying problems we are all experiencing.

Midwest Ancestree said...

Randy, do you happen to know what happened to the Ancestry.com wiki? I can only get to it now thru the WayBack Machine: https://web.archive.org/web/20160604102814/http://www.ancestry.com/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

The Red Book and The Source were wonderful online resources!

Jan Murphy said...

@Midwest Ancestree, thanks very much for the link to the wiki on the Wayback Machine.

In case you missed it -- the Red Book is here: https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3249

The Source is here: https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3259

Note that neither one of these can be browsed -- the search fields are the usual name fields, year, location, and keywords. Obviously the Wiki versions are far easier to use.

The link to the Learning Center in the "About the Database" descriptions redirects you to the support website's main page. I am baffled why anyone would think it was a good idea to combine the materials in the Learning Center with the support articles on how to use the site, and to require a separate login to get to support.

Perhaps the Wiki and the Learning Center materials were underutilized, but that's an artifact of Ancestry not promoting them. Their solution seems to be "well, we didn't hide the well enough, so we'll just hide them even more."

Pete Smee said...

At least the US databases are being searched, here in the UK we have to wait until the West Coast goes to bed before our Parish records are accessable. During US "prime shift" the only way we can see our records is by browsing the images.

Latest (?) problem is that Trees marked private but searchable are now showing all users the individuals parents and location data - this is presumably a side effect of the "Parents Hint" introduced recently.

https://www.facebook.com/AncestryUK/posts/10156898830726336?comment_id=10156900645231336&notif_id=1524683573514618&notif_t=feed_comment&ref=notif

Anonymous said...

I work in the IT department at Ancestry and the in-house team was NOT fired, we are still here and working to solve the problems so that service will return to normal or better.

mbm1311 said...

Still here thanks for informing us about the in-house IT team - but again - where is the senior management at Ancestry? Who are they relying on for PR? Why isn't senior management talking to us, their customers??? Also they can work on their Roots Tech talk. It is an excellent opportunity to tell us, their customers, where they are taking ancestry.com!

Debra Wheatley said...


I have had a problem over the last three weeks doing searches. I constantly get the page that states "We are sorry this page is unavailable" Another thing is that I cannot get my DNA results on my home computer. This is very frustrating since I use my home computer for most of my research. Not sure what is going on, but I sure wish Ancestry would consider extending my research time for the amount of time I am loosing each night TRYING to do research and not being able to get on. Frustrated with this site right now!!

Elizabeth Handler said...

When I search in a record set at Ancestry and I start to enter a name, a list of possible names from my tree appears in a selection box below the first name field. However, there is now NO identifying information (where there used to be birth and death years to the right of their names). This is a problem because I have plenty of lines where I have same-named individuals and if I want to select one of them, I have to try each one until I get the one I want. Not major, but certainly a pain when I want to search an individual and incorporate his or her family information. Thanks for speaking out on this!

Midwest Ancestree said...

According to Ancestry.com's career page (https://www.ancestry.com/corporate/careers/search-jobs/department/technology), they are looking to hire a lot of IT people:
Technology Team Jobs See all jobs

Search all jobs by keyword
JOB TITLE DEPARTMENT LOCATION
Development Manager, Marketing Technology (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Development Manager, Service Cloud (Full-time) Family History Lehi
Director, Product Analytics (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Director, Product Management - Search, Notifications & Rules Engine Platform (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Director, Product Management, DNA Platform (Full-time) DNA San Francisco
Director, Product Management, Front-End Platform (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Director, Product, Data Platform (Big Data / Machine Learning) (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Engineering Manager - Flywheel (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Full Stack Developer (Full-time) DNA Lehi
Full Stack Developer - Flywheel (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Full Stack Developer - Health (Full-time) DNA San Francisco
NOC Manager (Full-time) Family History Lehi
Oracle E-Business Suite Reporting Analyst (Full-time) Family History Lehi
Principal Big Data Engineer (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Project Manager/ Technical Writer (Contractor) (Contract) Family History Lehi
Quality Engineer - Flywheel (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior Database Administrator (Full-time) Corporate Lehi
Senior Full Stack Developer (Full-time) DNA Lehi
Senior Full Stack Developer - Flywheel (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior Full Stack Developer - Health (Full-time) DNA San Francisco
Senior iOS Developer (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior iOS Developer (Full-time) Family History Lehi
Senior Java Developer (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior Product Manager / Product Manager, Trust (Full-time) Family History Lehi
Senior Product Manager, Search (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior Search Engineer (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior Software Developer - Cloud (Full-time) Corporate Lehi
Senior Software Engineer (Full-time) DNA San Francisco
Senior Software Engineer (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior Software Engineer, platform (Full-time) DNA San Francisco
Senior UX Designer (Full-time) Family History San Francisco
Senior Web UI Developer (Full-time) DNA Lehi
Software Engineer (Full-time) DNA San Francisco
Software Quality Engineer (Full-time) Corporate San Francisco
System Administrator - Contractor (Contract) Corporate San Francisco

kdduncan said...

Maybe the problem is that they are spending all of their time fixing the issues with Rootsweb?
:)

Randy Seaver said...

Nice find Midwest Ancestree!!

Perhaps they moved more of the IT jobs to San Francisco from Utah.

Kat said...

I think their server is too overloaded now and needs to be upgraded to a bigger one and they need to hire some real technicians that know what the heck they are doing!.....I posted this on Ancestry's FB last week...... Hey Ancestry you really need to get your act together you are scaring off all of your new customers! And if they are dissatisfied with your service then they will tell all of their friends and family and those will be potential new customers you will lose! �� Sounds like you need to upgrade to a bigger server and hire some real technicians that know what the heck they are doing! These server issues are getting to be really annoying!

Fiddlegal55 said...

Randy,

Thanks for this post.

Yes, agree with all the above. Ancestry was such a stable site at anytime. Within the last six months it seems, it has slowly degraded - slow, not loading, the panning for gold dude, etc., etc.

Ancestry.Com - **Take notice** - your reputation is at stake here! Please, please fix NOW. I have always been a HUGE fan, urging family and friends to do DNA and subscribe.

V said...

Thank you for talking about this. I also think that there is some more problems. I've added about 1000 people to my tree and would like to attach my dna to the tree. BUT on my dna page, when it asks you who to attach it to..... my name never comes up. My tree has been lost in a time warp for a month!

candyskyes said...

I also have been encountering these issues, but I think some of them started more than a few months ago- especially where the page or service isn't available. I agree that firing the IT team would cause a disaster like this- it this true? IT needs continuity. I just hope that it doesn't erase all the work I've done on the site for years.

Adopted 1 said...

I am an adoptee who is attempting to have her tree done by a genealogist who uses Ancestry. I am furious with their "games" I paid for a whole year subscription for myself when I got my DNA back. Then my poor genealogist,literally, couldn't afford to renew her 6 month subscription.Since she is my biological 4th cousin and cutting me a break on her fee, I felt obligated to help her out,so I paid it for her.
Then shortly thereafter Ancestry started with their problems
My question... is someone going to make Ancestry either extend or renew customer's service for the time that they have been down? It is not fair of them to collect money from customers then not supply the service or provide extremely sub-par services. I know for a fact that their problems are causing problems with my genealogist.She has already had 2 clients that she had to put on a waiting list. And I am sure she is not the only professional that is having problems with their clients.
We live in the State of FL, I know that in our State in cases like this, where a company does not deliver on the services advertised we can contact the Department of Consumer Affairs.If a company wants to do business in FL they have to register and I believe obtain a business licence.So if they get enough complaints the State can pull that company from operating in the State of FL. Ancestry is a big company.I don't think that they would like being fined and told that they can no longer sell their product in FL.
I would imagine that other States have similar Departments.At the least the BBB.
This may be something that someone wants to start to investigate and start to show Ancestry some consumer "teeth"
I look in hearing your opinion on this.

Anonymous said...

I'm not and have never been an Ancestry employee, but migrating to Amazon Web Services (AWS) is no mean feat.

For a company whose revenue and whole brand is so technology dependent, and is so big data-wise, it's inevitably going to cause some performance issues. I spotted some blips the other evening regarding pages timing out, but this happens sometimes to any website when there's lots of users.

I'd agree with the mysterious 'Still here' commentor, and add that firing a tech team when you're migrating would have been utterly foolish (so, it seems they haven't), as AWS isn't a replacement for a tech team, it's just the hosting, and it can come with its own set of trials and troubles. The move to AWS will just mean that Ancestry will be able to quickly respond to server needs as and when they need to in future, once this initial bedding-in stage is over.

I wish them lots of luck, and I don't envy them of this step for a second!

Georga said...

I too am having these problems. At first I thought it was my new computer. I get a zero result almost every time when I click "more results". the records seem to be out of order as well. When you pay for full access (400.00) it really makes you wonder if they are thinking of the customer when problems arrive.

Adopted 1 said...

Tell me about it! I too paid for a whole year! Are they planning on reimbursing ALL of us for the time we lost? I guess only time will tell, but I think everybody will have to contact them! If they refuse I think we all need to contact our local chapters of the BBB! It's called fraud!

Groser said...

"Search all records" does not link up with most catalogues. An example (I have screenshots)

Search all results for surname VARNEY (exact, sounds like & similar) born 1800 + or - 10 years in Oxfordshire, England (exact to this place) = 1 result (from UK Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Admissions & Discharges 1715-1925)

Search catalogue "All Oxfordshire Church of England Baptism, Marriages & Burials 1538-1812" with exactly the same criteria = 69 results

This is a catastrophic failure. I have contacted Ancestry and was told that they are currently in the process of "making improvements", but this has been going on for several weeks now.

Can anyone suggest some way of getting Ancestry to sit up, listen, acknowledge and fix these problems? I have been a subscriber for 15 years or so, but I'm beginning to look for alternaives.

Pete Smee said...

The same problem for most of the UK Counties since the changes that Ancestry made the weekend of 24/25 March ready for the Easter special offers.

I did have one idea for getting Ancestry's attention which would be for someone with an exceptionally large tree to make the GEDCOM freely available to all users and for all users wishing to protest to upload the GEDCOM as a new family tree and only remove it when Ancestry agree to extend their subscription by the period of time that these "Improvements" have taken

Let's see the improved Search and hints system deal with that!

Adopted 1 said...

One surefire way of getting their attention is to have everybody in every State complain to the BBB and or each State's Department of Consumer Affairs. Every State should have a Department that oversees any company doing business in that state. If they start getting enough calls from people they will investigate and start leaning on Ancestry.

Georga said...

As a "crazy" researcher I have Ancestry apps on my other devices as well as my main computer I do my research on. The Amazon App (for my Amazon Fire) for Ancestry is now doing a better job of searching files that the main site or my FTM. You might want to try it. No guarantee its going to work better for you but I see improvement over the
others.
I think Ancestry has had problems with all their sites. The bought Find A Grave, , its slow in transferring over to the new site and there are bugs there too. Rootsweb has not been fixed, FamilySearch is doing ok. I think they just bit off more than they can chew. Not enough people to maintain all of them.

lavender said...

Glad to know it's a problem everyone is aware of. Searches have been unreliable for months, will keep my hopes up while I am investigating other services available. This is way too expensive a site to have such a IT snafu event. Whatever they are on, it can't handle it as every work day starting at 5:00E, and then go across all the time zones at quiting time, it slows down. When it does that, you know they just don't have the power required. I have also noticed a definite increase in transcription errors. I hope they don't own FamilySearch as I don't feel one company should have such a monopoly on available online viewable records. I mean for the U.S., nobody else has such a selection as these two places. I will be glad when my lines are across the pond.

Sharon said...

I have started a list of current problems that I am experiencing on my own blog, purely for the purpose of getting Ancestry to fix them
http://sbunterblog.blogspot.com/

Carol Kuse said...

I have tried for several weeks to change my password. only to get "unidentified error try again later" When I had lost several weeks of my subscription time, I cancelled my subscription.