Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Feedback: FamilySearch's Potential

The Potential of post by James Tanner in the Genealogy's Star Blog opens with "I wonder if FamilySearch really understands the potential of They seem to be moving towards putting the pieces together, but I have yet to hear anyone articulate the website's true potential in a coherent fashion. The closest presentation yet was from Tim Cross at the Arizona Family History Expo. He gave a presentation on and talked about storing photos, stories and documents along with the entries on Family Tree. But there seems to be one more step; making the "master copy" of the world's genealogy.

Ol'Myrt here has a similar question, but it's not about the "tree" portion of the website. It's the "search" option that continues to bother me.

FamilySearch is missing the fact that to encourage searching for an ancestor by name is a poor option, when last August less than 11% of the FamilySearch digital images were indexed[1]. With several million new images being uploaded weekly by digital imaging crews staged throughout the world, that percentage can only be worse by now. Indexing just cannot keep pace with digitial imaging. 
  • FamilySearch isn't doing enough to point to the vast collection of UNindexed records.
  • The concept of one big online family tree, with attached supporting documents is all well and good. But if folks cannot locate supporting documents to attach to ancestors, the reliability of info in FamilySearch's one big online family tree is up for grabs.

The redesigned main screen of looks beautiful. But the main focus remains the "search by name" fill-in-the-blank form. Note: In the screen shot below, the search takes up about 3/4 of the "above the fold" on the FamilySearch landing page. A larger footprint denotes a higher priority.

One may specify the time period and place of an event such as birth, marriage and death, but the search algorithm appears to ignore it. The FamilySearch search algorithm is reminiscent of’s search engine issues from about 6 years ago.

Here are the results of my search for Dolly Yockey. No viable hits, and no suggestions for further use of the website. Major fail.

Even when choosing to change the filter of the results, there are no suggestions other than census. I know I searched by name, but why is Kansas coming up when I specified her death was in Illinois? And what about a 1900 census, when she died in 1858? Then there's the concern that surely there are more FamilySearch digital images for Illinois than census records? This is a real dead end.

This could lead one to think there are no Illinois records covering the time period 1858 in the vast digital image collection. Yet a browse of United States - Illinois records shows there is much to search, though most not indexed. There is no link from the screen above to get to the list of all Illinois record collections. 

Certainly one doesn't get to the unindexed by sidebar suggestions after an unsuccessful search. One must manually go "all the way out" to Then scroll down past the search boxes to find the "Browse by Location" option. 

Here one clicks "United States" then selects "Illinois" to find 21 sizable collections to date. Browse-only images are indicated by the tiny "camera" icon. Here I might choose to browse the images of  "Illinnois, Cemetery Transctiptions 1851-2009" since my ancestor died in 1858. Without stronger pointers to the locality-related databases, an inexperienced website visitor would never know about these record groups by searching the site by an ancestor's name.

SUMMARY hides much of it’s digital content with the over-emphasis on ancestor name search when admittedly the vast majority of the site's digital images are only browsable, meaning the images have not yet been indexed and cannot show up in a name search.

FamilySearch is completely missing the opportunity to teach researchers about alternatives by providing side bar links to related browsable digital images, by time period and general locality. This disconnect must be a priority to resolve if FamilySearch wants to reach its potential.

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

Twitter: @DearMYRTLE
G+: +Pat Richley-Erickson
Second Life: Clarise Beaumont  

[1] Info provided via telephone conversation with Jim Ericson, then a FamilySearch employee.


  1. I agree, when I search specifically for Australian records I results from USA but nothing from Australia. Even where I know records exist.

  2. Really good point and obvious once it is mentioned. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. You didn't mention that the Dolly Yockey result was below a colorful notice that says "None of these results strongly match what you searched for. The following results may still be of interest."

    You ask why a hit comes up in Kansas when you specified Illinois. I think the orange bar text just quoted answers that question. It isn't a match, but is there a possibility the person could have moved to Kansas? If so, you might be interested. If not, then the "warning" orange bar is what is needed.

    I would rather have poor matches shown with a warning they aren't good matches than not have them presented at all.

    Your other complaint is spot on - search results need to be followed with suggestions for other things which might otherwise be missed, such as unindexed records.

  4. Keep spreading the word. It took me over a year of using FamilySearch before I discovered the browsable images. Most researchers I know think everything is indexed and I make sure they know there's gold to be found when we browse. In fact, I've made some of my best discoveries when I was browsing the indexed files!

  5. Randy Seaver blogged about this at some point (could have been as long as a year ago), and since then, I have in my bookmarks so I go right to the collection list when I want to search there.

  6. Very well put and described, Pat. In addition, don't you think they could let search-engine users know -- right there on the screen -- that wild cards can be used in names? That the unlabeled blank squares, when checked, make the search "exact" for name, place, etc.? These suggestions have been made for years.

  7. I inadvertently deleted this comment and luckily found a copy in my email. My apologies fir messing up a bit.

    Just Pam left a new comment on your post "Feedback: FamilySearch's Potential":

    You hit the nail on the head with this post!! Your title is feedback. Have you sent this post into the feedback section at I am serving as a full time missionary in the FamilySearch support area. I know that feedback items are taken very seriously and if warranted, can become future changes for the website. Many feedback items of the past have found themselves incorporated into later upgrades. It doesn't happen tomorrow but letting them know makes a big difference.

    1. I've been told on numerous occasions that FS follows my blog, at least to the extent they receive alerts when I publish a post with the name FamilySearch in it.