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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Is there an improvement in the FamilySearch Search?

Some time ago, I made a comparison of the search engines in the three big online databases with predominantly U.S. records; Ancestry.com, WorldVitalRecords.com and FamilySearch.org. Recent blog posts from FamilySearch claim that "FamilySearch's Search Feature Has Been Improved." Since FamilySearch's search functions had come in a distant third to both of the other databases, I decided it was time to see if there was, in fact, any improvement. One important new feature of the FamilySearch program is the Record Search capability directly from the Detail Page of an individual in Family Tree. So I thought this might make a big difference in the search capabilities of the program.

My initial reaction was not that positive. For example, I did a search on my Great-grandmother Eliza Ellen Parkinson Tanner. I had already attached ten source records to her Details Page, which included eight from Family Search. Here is a screen shot showing the records already found and attached:


The items with the tree icons come directly from the Historical Record Collections on FamilySearch.org. Notwithstanding these already discovered and selected records, the results from a search for records for Eliza Parkinson were dismal. Here is a screen shot showing the results of a search using the search parameters of her name, birth place, residence place and year of birth:


As you can see, if you click on the image, there is only one result for Eliza. The search did not even find the records that were already there. Now if I change the name to Eliza Tanner, I get the following:


Once again, only one single result. Interestingly, adding the name Tanner brought up a record with her parents and even more interesting, the mother is wrongly identified. Her mother's name was not Mery Buaut, but Mary Ann Bryant. Ancestry.com has a function to "correct" the indexing done of source records to add correct searchable terms. These corrections then aid subsequent researchers in using the indexes. Perhaps such a feature would be more helpful than some of the other features being implemented in FamilySearch.org's search engine?

The next step is to see if making the search from her Details Page will give more or more accurate results? Here is the screenshot of the results of a search from the Details Page:


The results are not much better even using the correct information supplied by the Details Page. There are only two of the entries that pertain to my Eliza. This in the face of the fact that I know that the records are already in FamilySearch and have been previously found. I don't think adding features is really helping to improve the search capability of the program.

Maybe there is some quirk specific to Eliza Ellen Parkinson Tanner? So, I tried the same exercise again with another ancestor. Charles Godfrey DeFriez was an English immigrant to the U.S. who lived most of his life in Arizona. He was my Great-great-grandfather. Here are the sources that have been added already for Charles:


If you click on the image, you can see he appears in the 1880, 1900 and 1910 U.S. Census records, all of which were found in FamilySearch.org and attached to his Details Page. So, I clicked on the Search Records link to see what would happen. One complicating factor is that when he married, he took the name Jarvis. So instead of his wife, Margaret Jarvis, changing her name, He became Charles Jarvis. So I didn't expect to find much. Here is the screenshot:


No records were found, although the search included several user submitted tree results. I decided to add Jarvis to the surname and see what happened:


In this case, there are no record sources but finally one user submitted tree with his name. So this time, I took out the name DeFriez altogether.


Still no results. Nothing. Even though we have all of the information about this individual, nothing seems to work to find the records that we already know are in the database. So what do I need to add to find anything about Charles? I try adding a residence in Arizona.


Finally, I get two of the three available U.S. Census records.

FamilySearch.org still has quite ways to go before the search engine works to the level of Ancestry.com, for example. I decided to look at what was in Ancestry.com. Here is a screenshot of the records already added to Charles in Ancestry.com, primarily as a result of the program's suggestions through "Green Leaves":


As a quick test. I went to Ancestry.com and did a quick search on Charles Godfrey DeFriez with a residence in Arizona. Here is a screenshot of the search parameters:


All of the results are in Arizona and the first one is a hit.


I suggest that when you search in FamilySearch.org, you do so in each individual collection that may have information about your ancestor and vary the search terms. Don't give up. The information is likely there but demonstrably hard to find.

3 comments:

  1. My experience with FamilySearch search engine has been different from yours. I've had quite a bit of success. I even found an ancestor in a different state on the census records after a move between the census years. That discovery led to more records. I also like the fact that you can attach the source easily to the individual in the tree - AND to everyone else listed in the record. By clicking on their names, the headline is changed to reflect the individual's name so it will source appropriately for that individual. I would encourage others to give it a try and see what results they get.

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  2. James, this is a bit off topic, but I am moving my home page from Google IG to IGHome, since Google IG is going to be discontinued November 1st. I don't remember how I got your blog on here the first time, whether it was RSS feed or just a web address. Thanks
    Ken Hess

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  3. I agree. While I have found some records on FamilySearch.org that I had not found on Ancestry.com, I often do not find records I know to be there. I wish they would include the features that Ancestry.com has for spelling variations (Soundex, phonetic, etc). When I use those features in different combinations on ancestry.com, I get different results. I also like the ability to confine searches to a county, or a county plus adjacent counties that ancestry.com has. It's hard to be patient, knowing that there are a wealth of documents at FamilySearch.com, but I trust they will keep making improvements.

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