Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Comparing Genealogical Search Engines

I have been thinking about online searching recently since I taught a series of classes at the Brigham Young University Family History Library on the subject. See the videos on the BYU Family History Library Channel. It has been a while since I looked at how the largest online genealogy companies stack up in a comparison of their search engines. The challenge here is to find a common denominator for search capabilities when many searches merely reflect the content of the various databases. We get so used to seeing the same types of records on all of the websites, we may forget that they really have largely idiosyncratic content.

I am also limiting this search example to those companies with sophisticated record matching or hinting capabilities. I have already attached all of the record hints from each of the programs.

If you do a search for a relatively recent individual, each of the companies should find some of the same records and find additional records that are not shared with the other companies. So to make this a fair comparison, I need to choose an ancestor that appears in each of the programs in my family tree. That person is my Great-great Grandfather Thomas Parkinson, b. 1830, d. 1906. He is representative because he was born in England, giving a chance with his records. In addition, as far as I can tell, none of the four programs have any online records concerning his birth but there are plenty of records concerning his death in the United States. 

The idea is to search for Thomas Parkinson and see what records the programs find in addition to those already found by the program. I also happen to know that none of these programs have birth records or christening records for Thomas Parkinson. Here is the results of the first search.

1880 U.S. Census, 1900 U.S. Census, State of Utah Death Certificate, 

1860 U.S. Census, 1870 U.S. Census, 1880 U.S. Census, 1900 U.S. Census, Beaver County, Utah Census, 1900, U.S. Find A Grave Index, Utah Cemetery Inventory, Utah Death Registers 1847-1966, Utah, Death and Military Death Certificates, 1904-1961

BillionGraves Index, Utah Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database, 1847-1868, Find A Grave Index, Utah Death Certificates, 1904-  1964, Mormon Migration Database, 1840-1932, 1900 U.S. Census, 1880 U.S. Census, 1870 U.S. Census, 1860 U.S. Census, 

1841 England and Wales Census, 1870 U.S. Census, 1880 U.S. Census, The Ogden Standard, Ogden City, Utah, 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Utah Death Certificates, 1904-1958

It looks like to me that the playing field is still not level. I decided to do some additional searches. I went back another generation in the Parkinson family to James Parkinson, b. 1836, d. 1870. James Parkinson was born in England and died in Australia, so this might present a different set of records. 

New South Wales Deaths, 1788-1945, 1841 England, Wales and Scotland Census,

Australia, Death Index, 1787-1985, England, Pallot's Marriage Index, 1780-1837, Huntingdonshire, England, Extracted Parish Records, New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828-1896, New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Coroners' Inquests, 1821-1937

James Parkinson in entry for Sarah Parkinson, "England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975", James Parkinson in entry for Sarah Parkinson Stapley, "Utah Death Certificates, 1904-1964", James Parkinson in entry for Thomas Parkinson, "Utah Death Certificates, 1904-1964"

1841 England and Wales Census

At this point it is obvious that each of these programs will find records not found by the others for the simple reason that their collections differ. I decided to use my standard example, my Great-grandfather, Henry Martin Tanner, b. 1852, d. 1935, for a final run through of the searches. I immediately ran into a problem, no longer shows all of the attached sources. There is an counter that indicates that Henry Martin Tanner has 81 attached sources but only 30 of those sources can be viewed. There does not seem to be a way to expand the limit on the number of sources viewed. This is a serious issue. If I used the Print link to produce a Family Group Record with all of sources attached, I can get the full list but I see no way to view the list absent creating a PDF file. This is happening just as I began to believe that the FamilySearch Family Tree was beginning to be useful. I looked at other people on the Family Tree and found the same 30 source limit. What is going on? 

Note: Even though this occurred earlier, the issue of viewing all of the sources seems to have been resolved. This points out the volatility of online database programs.

Well, so much for my efforts to compare search engines in the programs. All I can really say is that they all have different records and anyone who really wants to find all the records online would need to have a subscription to each of the programs or use them in a Family History Center where access is free to all four. 

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, it seems FS is proceeding at a glacial pace to fix the bugs in Family Tree turn it into a truly usable application.