Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Bless you Ancestry, but …

In the holiday classic movie It's a Wonderful Life George gets to see how his community would have developed had he never lived. Imagine genealogy today without Ancestry.com and its companion websites.

In Canada name indexes to several censuses are only available online due to the efforts of Ancestry. It's the only source for indexed Ontario civil registration records online, for the Drouin collection online and the complete available incoming passenger lists. In the UK they were the first company to make available the fully indexed civil registration indexes, and have provide records from the London Metropolitan Archives.

It may be that without Ancestry other organizations would have eventually digitized these. I doubt that without the competition from Ancestry other companies would have been motivated to go so far, so fast.

Now we come to the but ...

While you likely have additional databases you'd like to see added there are also things the company could do to add value to the existing records.

Improving the quality of indexes is a continuing issue, one that everyone recognizes, and also one where the magnitude of the challenge is appreciated by anyone who has participated in indexing projects.

Leaving indexing quality aside, what else?

I've mentioned before the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations),1861-1941. It's the most useful database from the UK Ancestry added in 2010, and hopefully they will extend the record and fill in the gaps.

It would be helpful to make these records full text searchable. Only the name of the deceased is indexed at present. There is always one more name in each record, of the executor, and often more. Full text could be achieved through OCR where the text is of good quality, often the case.

For the Canadian records my greatest aggravation is with geography. This was brought home to me again in doing the research for the recent A, H. Fitzsimmons article.

It was relatively easy to find the death registration for Harriet Fitzsimmons

Searching for other Fitzsimmons deaths in Carleton County I found this was not possible as the county is not recognized. Searching on Ottawa, Ontario, provided many hits if I didn't specify the location to be exact, including many outside Carleton County; and when an exact search was specified no hits were found. This seems to be a general problem with Canadian county searches.

What's your experience? How can Ancestry improve the value you get from their existing databases?


Anonymous said...

The search engine doesn't recognize Lanark County either. That makes searching for someone there impossible.

Mike More said...

My major complaint with Ancestry is the individual family trees that they "market" as reliable sources. I am very happy when they digitize or index primary sources. And the family trees are valuable as hints to further research. But I wish that Ancestry would try to educate genealogists that they can't be accepted at face value. I see too many mistakes simply copied between trees.
I also see too many errors from researchers who look at the Ancestry index and don't bother to look at the image of the document. Ancestry has done much to help the hobby but they are also teaching a lot of bad habits. Researchers should look at the original, particularly when it's only a mouse click away.

MelMcL said...

I have written to Ancestry several times asking them to broaden their index and understanding of Canadian geography. Most of my placenames (which tend to be in Ontario and Quebec), which include province, county (or district) and township (village) are tagged "unrecognized place name". In the US they have no problem with four levels of location identification. For Canada the "suggested" name is often a larger city or town in the general area. For searching Canadian records this is hardly helpful. I often wonder how many records I'm missing with the vagaries of this search feature. Given the overlap I have witnessed in Canadian and American migration, this is a serious underservice for Canadians and an oversight for Americans searching Canadian connections and roots.

Anonymous said...

It's not intuitive but I've found that putting the place name, e.g. Carleton, in the Keyword field works.

Grandma Shirley said...

For people adding sources to their family tree on Ancestry, in the final stage before accepting the source, the results for the place name are often incomplete, sometimes missing the local name, and sometimes missing the province. The full place name is usually included in the search list, so they know how to pull it all together, they just don't when saving it to a family tree.

Cannuk said...

Aside from the already mentioned marketing of Ancestry's trees as reliable sources, I have the following beefs:
1. When they introduce a major new data set, such as the Principal Probate Registry, they let it languish for ages before updating, in favour of introducing another data set. Please, please finish the job, then move on.
2. The Card Catalogue. Good idea, but never got the hang of it, and I'm reasonably savvy with computer searching. Should be more intuitive.

Anonymous said...

Searching by Ontario counties is an issue for me as well but of greater disappointment to me is that half my family is/was from Pontiac County QC and the Drouin Collection is for all intense purposes devoid of records from this area (Protestant and Catholic). It would be fantastic if Ancestry could find a source of these vitals and get them digitized.

Anonymous said...

You can also force Ancestry to use the "old search" for at least the Ontario BMDs. If you click on the SEARCH button across the top, you can then find a link at the far right top of the search page that says "Go to Old Search". For Ontario BMDs, at least, you get the old pull-down lists of counties.


Anonymous said...

I have noticed that ANCESTRY.COM does not list all the names of places, and when I add a census record or other source, I type in all the details, and do not select their place "button" on record matches if it is of limited use.

Where could I find a book that lists the names of the Canadian Provinces, Counties, and Townships with their date of creation, and their previous geographic jurisdiction? There is such a book for NJ

Helping a friend with Quebec families, records from St. Hyacinth, would like to know how to find the earlier or previous parish. ETM

M.C. Moran said...

Anonymous at 16:28: I've used Ancestry's Drouin collection to search through many Catholic registers of Pontiac Co. (at Chapeau, Quyon, Vinton, Sheenboro, Calumet Island, Portage du Fort, Campbell's Bay, etc.). The Drouin records are filed/listed in a somewhat idiosyncratic way: sometimes under the name of the church/parish, but often under the placename rather than the name of the church/parish (so, for Pontiac Co., Vinton rather than Ste. Elizabeth, Ile-du-Grand-Calumet rather than Ste. Anne, and etc), but Pontiac Co. RC records are certainly available. I don't know about the Protestant records, but it would surprise me if they didn't have at least some of the Anglican registers.

PaperQuilter (aka Liz) said...

I quickly found 47 Fitzsimmons deaths in Carleton County, by using Old Search.
This is one of my favourite features of Old Search and my biggest complaint about New Search as I work in the Ontario BMD databases so much. The ability to specify county, as well as to specify exact date with no name is absolutely critical.