Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Reader Comments on Ancestry Search Problems

I posted Are There Search Problems on Ancestry.com?  last week, and have had significant reader comments in blog comments, email and Facebook.  I want to share the most significant and useful comments here.

1)  The Down-East Genealogist (in blog comments) said:

"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."

2)  Sharon (in blog comment) noted:

"I have posted many tweets on the subject over the last 14 days since the Search function has been practically unusable.  I listed  no less than 7 search issues here:
The problems are tripling my research time.  Not a happy subscriber of 16 years.

3)  mbm1311 (in blog comment) shared:

The subject has been discussed on the genealogy sub reddit - without 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.

4)  Dick (in blog comment) submitted:

"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 [with FTM].

"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."

5)  Elizabeth Handler (in blog comment) 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!"

6)  Julie (in email) noted:

" I have a few comments, not all related to searches, but I want to mention them in case they are of interest to you.  I don’t know how to get Ancestry’s attention or I would send them my ideas directly.

"I am a daily user of their DNA pages, monitoring activity for myself and a dozen relatives.  Sometimes I feel that I am limping through their system and many things are much harder than they ought to be.  A few simple changes would be so helpful:

•  Return to showing the total number of pages of DNA matches, as they did until late October of last year.
•  Provide the total “fourth cousins or closer” even if it is over 1,000.  Now all they say is “1,000+” which makes it difficult to know if any new matches have been added since the matches were last viewed.
•  Fix the problem of disappearing notes.  When I add a note to a DNA match, save the note and leave the screen—for instance, to examine a shared match—then the note does not appear when I go back to the match, and the page does not update until (apparently) I back all the way out of my match list, by which time I have lost my place on the list.
•  Here is the big one:  Provide the cM number in a conspicuous place, not hidden behind the lower case “i” where many new users don’t even know to look.  If the cM number was visible on the match list itself, it would save wading through many pages of relatively weak matches to find those matches who no longer come up in Ancestry searches!  (That assumes I have noted the match strength in the past.)

"There are many other small changes I could recommend that would make Ancestry faster and easier to use.  For example, when updating Fact Details on ancestor profiles on my tree, I’d like a bigger box for Location so the whole thing would be visible at once.  How hard could that be?

"One last thing for now.  Ancestry seems to have made it their last priority to keep their website updated and problem-free for users of the Safari browser.  Often I have to switch to Google Chrome just to get things to work right.  I realize I can do that, but I like Safari better.  Some problems go on for many months before being fixed, then new ones appear.

"I absolutely agree that Ancestry is the best genealogy website around.  What disappoints me is how they have let it deteriorate for their most dedicated users while adding a bunch of DNA users who are totally clueless and don’t even have trees."

My thanks to all of my readers who made comments on the blog, in email and on Facebook (mainly on DearMYRTLE's profile!).  I hope that Ancestry reads the above and the other comments too.

7)  Here is one of my complaints:  Ancestry has lost the ability to count things.  For example:

a)  I searched for Isaac Seaver, born 1823, lived in Massachusetts, all exact.  The "Records" page says:

I wanted to see if my recently added Ancestry Member Tree (October 2017) had been indexed yet (nope!), so I clicked on the "See more like this..." and saw:

On the screen above, it says "Results 1 of 1" but there are three results listed.  At least all of them were correct.

b)  On the first screen, I clicked on the "Categories" link, and saw:

The "Family Trees" section on the screen above says there is 1 result.  I clicked on "Public Member Trees" link and saw:

There are 17 public tree matches, not 1 or 3.  

It's strange that simple things like counting results can be so wrong.  The lesson for me is that I can't trust Ancestry.com to provide a complete and accurate list of search results.


Copyright (c) 2018, Randall J. Seaver

Please comment on this post on the website by clicking the URL above and then the "Comments" link at the bottom of each post.  Share it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Pinterest using the icons below.  Or contact me by email at randy.seaver@gmail.com.


Marian B. Wood said...

With all these glitches, it only reinforces the need for us to maintain our own family trees on our own software. Then we know we have the most accurate and up-to-date version, no matter what problems Ancestry may be experiencing.

Marian said...

Good point, Marian!

For people who are worried about their member trees on Ancestry, and even for people who are confident about them, it's time to export and download a Gedcom file of the tree(s). This short video shows how:

The resulting Gedcom file on your computer will be a back-up of your work, in case Ancestry has a problem and you have to re-load it, and it will also give you the ability to load your tree into any of the familiar desktop genealogy packages.

TheLadyClaire said...

I have always maintained my own tree on my own computer. Too many things have been changed on FamilySearch.org and situations like this reinforce this even more.