Saturday, January 08, 2011

Difficult search despite unusual name

From: EllenH

Something interesting:
While going through the 1900 Census on , I found an interesting name in Chesterfield County, Virginia: Surrender L. Snelling.  She was born April 1865. I wonder what her parents were thinking at that time.  "At last the war is over or darn the Yankees won?"   Source citation is: Year: 1900; Census Place:  Midlothian, Chesterfield,  Virginia; Roll:  T623_ 1705; Page: 2A; Enumeration District:  9.


GLAD you gave me the source citation. Here's what happened to Ol' Myrt when I went to to find Surrender Snelling on the census page you referenced.

Just used the main search box on the home page, and considering Surrender an unusual name, I didn't specify anything else like locality or time period. Searched for:
First Name: Surrender
Last Name: Snelling
Result: Found no match in first 3 search results screen.

Edit previous search: Narrowed that above search to include only hits from the 1900's decade.
Result: Found no match in first 3 search results screen.

Edit previous search: Narrowed the same search with keywords "Chesterfield, Virginia".

Result: Found the entry for Surrender, second item on the list. Why does Harold Snelling come up first, when I clearly was searching for Surrender. Surrender should have been on the top of the list. It appears my omitting the ending "s" in Snelling pushed Harold above Surrender on the hit list.

Here's a crop from the scanned image of the census record Ellen cited.
Enumeration of Surrender L. Snellings in the 1900 federal census at

There is something wrong with the search engine if it couldn't locate an unusual name like Surrender Snelling. Omitting the middle initial "L" or the "s" at the end of the surname should not have played a such a major role in the search engine, since spelling variations such as these are common. provides a typed abstract listing the members of the Snellings household.
Charles E Snellings, [age] 40
Surrender L Snellings, 35
Maggie L Snellings, 10
Harry L Snellings, 8
Dora E Snellings, 6
Thomas J Snellings, 3
Clarance A Snellings, 7/12 [months]
Jerry Fortune, 46
William Y Fortune, 19 provides the following information to be used when composing a source citation for this entry:
  • Source Citation: Year: 1900; Census Place: Midlothian, Chesterfield, Virginia; Roll: T623_1705; Page: 2A; Enumeration District: 9.
  • Source Information: 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. 
  • Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls.
Keep looking, try alternate spellings, broaden or narrow your search and PERSEVERE.

Newbie researchers might figure there was nothing at on Surrender (L.) Snelling(s), and give up a lot sooner than Ol' Myrt.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt      :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. I must agree that there are definite problems with the search engine(s) on Ancestry. In particular during the last couple of weeks I have been using Steve Morse's One Step search page, gold form for Ellis Island. I found my great grandmother's record, which did not come up on Ancestry's search even though it should have. Planning a post on this.

  2. I agree that Ancestry definitely needs to work on their search priorities. One tool I've found helps immensely is to change "Use default settings" to "Restrict to exact" for different pieces of the search. For example, by doing a general search for Surrender Snelling with the first name restricted to exact, Ancestry pulls up the 1900, 1910, and 1930 Census for Surrender Snellings as the only 3 results.

    By the way, to make matters worse it seems Surrender was born Surrender Lee Fortune, daughter of Jeremiah and Margaret Fortune. She is on the 1880 Census of Chesterfield County with her parents.

  3. That's the problem with the "New" search engine on Ancestry and is exactly why I still use the old search. If you revert back to the old search, type in Surrender Snelling and choose the Soundex spelling, you will get the correct results for Surrender Snellings for the 1900, 1910 and 1930 census.

  4. Dear Myrtle,

    Thanks for highlighting this - at, we're always seeking to improve our Search.

    I wanted to take a closer look at this, and it turns out that in this example, the issue is that the name is actually snellings, not snelling - Searching for Surrender Snellings from the main search box does successfully return matches as the top 3 matches, even without any date or location.

    Names do change over the years, and we do strive to anticipate this with our soundex and other phonetic matches, but clearly in this case, we didn't manage to do it well enough. We'll go back and try harder!

    Thanks again

    Tony Macklin Search team

  5. Thank-you Tony, for taking the time to respond. You strike me as someone who has diligently attempted to modify the search engine to have it represent how a typical genealogist will specify a search string to access databases. I APPRECIATE your work!!!

    Dropping an ending "s" is something that happened after the original DearREADER looked at the census page and when she typed her recollection of the Surrender Snellings enumeration -- an honest mistake.

    Omitting (or inserting) an ending "s" on a surname can certainly throw the search off, huh?

    I do appreciate your taking the time to respond. It makes Ol' Myrt feel better.

    I was wondering how much has changed at since Andrew left, and there are no more Bloggers Day summits scheduled.

    Your comment leads me to believe that is still listening.

  6. Tony and his Search Team are really outstanding. Over the last 18 months or so I've noticed they really do listen to user input and act on it when/if possible.

    Andy Hatchett

  7. Beware of new upgrade for 2011. After installing with their dual CD that they send as a trial and upgrade, very confusing,all of my media images were disconnected from the profile photo and all others would not open and enlarge. After 45 minutes on the phone with their tech support, TO BAD, SO SAD, they could'nt help me.