My Problems with Search Engines, Part 2

Yesterday, I shared my difficulties locating the Spears, Talbott and Grimes families in Bourbon County, Kentucky using the search engine for both the 1860 U.S. federal and slave schedule censuses.

All families were eventually located in both census schedules, but none by using the search engine. Instead the FamilySearch search of its census collections and manual reading page-by-page led to success.

I closed yesterday by stating that this issue is NOT just limited to Bourbon County, Kentucky.

I tried searching just by state for Spears:

That didn’t work any better than the county search. I then tried looking for the Riddle family, thinking that perhaps Bourbon County was the sole county affected.

No Riddles either, even though they were in Cumberland County, Kentucky, among other places.

Next, I tried Kentucky for the 1850 census and again looked for Riddles:

At least two Riddles in Kentucky came up this time and, although one is in Cumberland County, my husband’s ancestor, Isaac Riddle, isn’t here. He had a large family and I have found him in the census there.

Like yesterday, many of these results are for states far away from Kentucky, like New York and Maryland. Why does this keep happening when a specific name, county and state are included in the search criteria?

A bit more bad news – Kentucky isn’t the only state affected, either. Next, I tried 1850 Ohio, looking for any Williams family.

There are Williams families in Massachusetts, Texas, Utah Territory, New York and Wisconsin and Rhode Island, but not one found in Ohio.

Back I went to FamilySearch:

These are just the first few of too many to list Williamses living in Ohio in 1850:

There are plenty of people named Williams living in Ohio in 1850.

Here are the search results for Smith in Iowa in 1870:

FamilySearch results:

Again, these are just a few of the way too many results to include!

However, the search engine does PARTIALLY work for some states. I tried looking for Adams people in Massachusetts in 1850 on

Here at least the first seven results are for people named Adams in Massachusetts. However, I don’t believe for a second that in 1850 there were only these seven Adams households in that state!

My recommendation is to use FamilySearch to locate your family in U.S. census records if they don’t appear in an search when you believe they should be in the place that you are looking.

My question for is:
When are you going to address this issue?

Tomorrow, I will share one more problem related to the functioning of the search engines.



5 thoughts on “My Problems with Search Engines, Part 2”

  1. I understand your frustration.

    Sometimes to figure out why something is not working you have to look to see how it was entered so you understand and can use the database better. On a record image page that has the index icon “lite up” open the index window and view the fields not only for how a record as indexed but also the field names. You’ll see the standard First Name and Last Name fields were not used on the 1860 Census Slave Schedule instead Slave Owner and Slave Owner Surname were used. Luckily the keyword field was programmed to look at those fields. It appears that for some but not all of the census index the first and last name fields were programmed to look at the slave owner and slave owner surname fields. Unfortunately your county and lots of other areas were not one of them.

    You would think doing a focused search on just one database that search fields specialized to that database would appear for use but for whatever reason they don’t in this case. Usually specialized search fields are the benefit of searching just one specific database at a time.

    How the location was entered is also a problem. If you do not enter a place just right it won’t find anything. (Is Saint spelled out or abbreviated St. or St without the period?) Going to the specific database and using the browse pull-downs can usually help figure out what locations were used or if any were missed. For the 1860 Census Slave Schedule Bourbon county, Kentucky, shows six sub-locations: District, District 1, Eastern Division, Millersburg, Paris, Ruddles Mills.

    BUT entering one of these locations as it appears to have been recorded for this particular database (and ignoring the Global Place Name Authority or whatever Ancestry calls it) with the exact filter, still does not narrow results down to just that one of the six sub-locations like it should instead it gives all results for the county.

    Are there problems with Ancestry’s search engine? Yes. [Remember the old search versus new search (present day search) saga? Why were some specific databases losing specialized search fields? Why aren’t the results narrowed to what I entered?] Balancing a global place name list of how places are called now and how Ancestry prefers places to be entered with how tons of databases have locations entered as they were called at that time is likely causing some of the problem meaning the exact filter isn’t always working.

    But it isn’t all programming’s fault. I think a good chunk of the fault comes from those setting up the indexing projects who don’t really understand the needed fields and those doing the indexing not putting the correct information into the fields. [The index to the Mecklenburg-Schwerin church books on Ancestry reflect this — no standardized name was used to define each church parish (some parishes have six or more names) so searches could be narrowed to one church parish. And the church baptism location was more often than not entered into the birth place field instead of the village location where the parents lived which is the most likely place of birth. Even if the church place was entered into the baptism place field, there is no specific search field for baptism and the any event search field is hit and miss at bringing up results as is the keywords field. ]

    You had image examples of your search entry parameters for FamilySearch but not for your Ancestry searches. How each search field’s filters are applied can make a difference. Some of these are sticky and do not reset for new searches. And depending on how long we’ve been at the keyboard we can miss these little details.

    I think your issue in this case is a matter of how they indexed the records (non-standard fields) and the location glitch.

  2. You are not showing how you enter the search criteria in the Ancestry search form. I can tell you that you aren’t doing it correctly. Go to youtube and watch Crista Cowan, “The Barefoot Genealogist” on how to correctly search the Ancestry search forms.

  3. As I commented on your previous post, and as previous commenters here have noted, you don’t provide the URL of your search results page, so it is difficult to see exactly what you searched to produce the results you are getting. However, I entered Spears (in the surname field and marked exact), living in Kentucky (selected from the type ahead list and marked exact) and that is exactly what I get.

    Similarly, for your 2nd example, I type in Riddle (in the surname field, marked exact) and Cumberland County, Kentucky (selected from the type ahead and marked exact) and I find plenty of them there.

    In your 3rd example, same thing – I filled in the correct fields and the expected search results came right up:

    Williams in Ohio:

    Smith in Iowa:

    Adams in Massachusetts:

    If you could provide a URL of your search results page for any results where you are getting something you don’t expect, that would be really helpful. If we can see exactly what you are entering, how, and where, we can then see if we can make the entry form more intuitive or see if we can figure out where there might be a disconnect between your query and your search results.

    Hope that helps!

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