Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Ancestry Search Quirk - "County and Adjacent Counties" Filter Doesn't Work

1)  I received an email over the weekend from reader Cheryl who said:
"I’ve recently identified a serious problem that could easily mislead researchers, but isn’t necessarily obvious.
"Ancestry users need to know that the 'adjacent counties' filter in Search doesn't work. If you enter the name of a specific county in a location field, and then select 'county and adjacent counties', only the specific county you listed will be searched. I don't know how long this has been going on, but Customer Support told me today that it hadn't been previously reported.  I was surprised that first level Customer Support referred me to a supervisor (without my asking), and that both people I spoke with admitted that they could replicate the problem.  I tested this with two browsers (Chrome and Firefox) and various databases (North Carolina Marriages, Georgia Death Index, 1910 Census, and California Voter Registrations).
"I posted this on Ancestry’s Facebook page, and received this response from Janet Carlson (I don’t know if she works for Ancestry): 'Which search form are you seeing this on? and which field? I tried it on the global search form by inputting the county in the 'Lived In' field. I chose the 'exact/ counties and adjacent counties' filter and received search hits as expected.'
"My response: I first noticed this when searching specific collections, such as North Carolina Marriage Records, 1741-2011. But the same thing is happening with the global search form. Put Rogers in the last name field, Graham County, North Carolina, USA in the location field. Check exact to this place and hit Search. I get 2,412 results. Change the location slider to county and adjacent counties, hit Update. The number of results is unchanged. Yet it should include Rogers in the adjacent counties of Cherokee (4,123) and Swain (1,053) Counties. Yes, you are getting search hits, but they are highly misleading. Users think they have searched adjacent counties and they haven’t."
Cheryl asked me to verify this for myself and suggested I brief my readers about it.

2)  I used several different specific collections, and Cheryl's description is accurate in my opinion [obviously, I haven't checked all 36,000 Ancestry.com record collections].

I tested the 1930 U.S. census with an exact name of "John" "Smith" and an exact location of "Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States."  Here is the top of the Results list for the EXACT location:

So there are 67 John Smith entries in Worcester county, Massachusetts.

I moved the slider to "County and adjacent counties" and clicked on "Update:"

Hmmm.  Still only 67 entries on the Results list.

I moved the slider to the "State" setting, clicked "Update" and saw:

That seemed to work - `1,026 results.  some of them were from the adjacent counties of Middlesex, Norfolk, Hampden and Hampshire in Massachusetts.  I don't know about Providence County in Rhode Island or counties in New Hampshire.

I moved the slider again to "States and adjacent states" and clicked Update and saw:

Ah, 4,562 results.

If you care, there are 30,990 "John Smith" entries in the 1930 U.S. Census.

3)  My comments: 

*  The sliders are extremely useful to narrow the search results.  I am thankful that they work for the exact "county," the exact "State," and the "State and adjacent states" filter settings.

*  I am concerned that the "County and adjacent counties" filter doesn't seem to work on the record collections that I and Cheryl tested, and probably on none of the collections where it is provided.

*  Hopefully, Ancestry.com is now aware of this search quirk and will fix it shortly.

4)  Thank you to Cheryl for bringing this to our attention.  Excellent catch.


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Copyright (c) 2018, Randall J. Seaver

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DWilliams said...

This has been happening for a couple of months in that Collection. It was reported, and Ancestry always gives the stock answer like you're stupid or something and don't know how to use their site. I've been using their site since before they had documents on it, and it was free. They tell you to first go to the Card Catalog and select the database I want to use. (gee, I don't know what they thought I was using). It's become so frustrating to report anything to them because there are so many things like that which don't work correctly, that you kind of get sick of it.

tony said...

It also doesn't appear to work for the UK. I searched for a name that is not in my database but I knew lived in Essex. With an exact match, it found him. However, if I moved where he lived to Suffolk, it did not find him for "county and adjacent counties". It did find him again when I selected country.

Randy Majors said...

In addition to this apparent problem, readers should be aware of this other inherent problem with the place filter in Ancestry.com's search forms, which I've written about here:
How to overcome this place filter problem in Ancestry.com's search tools

Hope it's helpful!