Hi James, I have been trying to use newspapers through Ancestry.com and their results are so far afield that it seems pretty useless. I put in a search tonight for someone Steuben County, New York in 1826 and I get results from the 1930s and 40s in western US. I have had the same results in previous searches. I don't know how else to phrase a request then to specify name, date and location. Any pointers?This seems to be a common complaint with most searches online, but, of course, since we are working on genealogy, it turns up frequently in searches in the big online database programs such as Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage.com and findmypast.com. You may not have noticed it in the same way, but this is likely a contributing factor to why you get millions of responses to a search on Google also.
Just in case you haven't noticed how this works and why it works, I will do some test searches in Ancestry.com. I am searching by filling in the following information in the general search screen, that is the one on the startup page. The only thing I am doing differently is taking advantage of the fields in an advanced search. Here is the information I started searching with:
- Fist name - Eliza
- Last name - Tanner
- Any Event Location - Arizona
- Spouse's Name - Henry
- Gender - Female
This should be enough information to find my ancestor, but without a little more information, I may get a lot of results from this search. Let's see what happens.
Hmm. In this case I got 875,717 results but the first set of results are all in Arizona. But wait, if I scroll down a ways, I start getting stuff like this:
If you click on the image and look at the results, you will see returns in Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Illinois and so forth. Now, if the program had not found my own Eliza in Arizona, it would have automatically skipped on to all these other locations. The reason for this is the way almost all search engines in database programs function.
Essentially, if a database search does not find a result in a certain search category, it defaults to some higher parameter. In this case, I specified "Arizona," but the program didn't find any more entries matching the name and other information in Arizona, so it extended the search to the next higher geographic category. In this cast, that next higher category (or more expansive or whatever) is the "United States." So, the search produces "Eliza Tanner" in any state of the United States.
The problems is that to most users, this result appears like the program is broken and doesn't follow directions very well. Actually, it is following directions too well and giving you more than you asked for.
This issue is most obvious when the program cannot find a matching name in the target jurisdiction. For example, if Ancestry.com had not found an "Eliza Tanner" in Arizona, it might have gone to different states or even began returning "Eliza" with other last names. That is essentially why you get so many results even though only a very, very few of them are relevant.
To try to find out whether or not the information you are seeking is there anyway, you can try different combinations of search terms, leaving out and adding terms until you are satisfied that you have exhausted the possibilities. Sometimes adding more terms merely makes the problem worse. Sometimes taking out terms solves the problem but the opposite is also possible. For example, if I wanted to search further, I might take out the surname, supposing that the name had been misspelled in the indexes or sources in the database. Generally, after spending a while moving around search terms and combinations of search terms, I either find what I am looking for or start over in another database or work on the problem from another aspect.
You would have to sit there and watch me do this to see the dozens upon dozens of different combinations of search terms I use to get through to the data. I do the searches over and over and over with the different combinations. Eventually, I begin to understand exactly what the program is doing with my search terms and I can either stop or I find what I am looking for. In the case where the name or whatever is wrongly entered in the database, such as "Tamer" for "Tanner," I may never find the entry depending on the sophistication of the database search engine. I may end up searching the database name by name to see if the information is really there and I just cannot find it.
I might point out that most people fall off their chairs with exhaustion before I have finished this process. If I am determined to find something and you are watching, you will likely go to sleep before I finish. Two hours is common, longer happens frequently. You have to keep assuming that what you are looking for is there and the problem is the search terms or the combination. Try misspelling the name. Try looking in other counties or states. Try wider searches. I found a name last night that was spelled differently by going through every entry for my surname search in the entire database.
Good luck searching, a nice thing to say but luck has really nothing to do with it.