29 August 2012

Review: Mocavo

Mocavo advertises itself as:

"the leading free Internet search engine for genealogy. The data in our indexes only includes information of interest to family historians. You will not find Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles, or YouTube videos in your Mocavo results."

Genealogy uber-blogger Dick Eastman closely follows Mocavo developments and is quoted on the site home page:
"All my future genealogy searches will start on Mocavo.com. I've been using the site for a while during its testing and have been very impressed. I suspect you will always have better luck searching for your own surnames of interest on Mocavo.com than on any other search engine.”
A couple of months ago I was contacted by Taylor Meacham, Mocavo Marketing Director, and invited to try Mocavo Plus, "—a paid subscription that unlocks advanced search options and helps to automate research with connections from around the web." Mocavo Plus launched last December.

It has taken a while, far too long, for this review to come to the top of my priority list.

In responding to Taylor's invitation I mentioned that this blog focuses on UK and Canadian genealogy and asked about the website UK and Canada content. She responded that they cannot really track the origin of their content as it is primarily user-generated, they have content from all around the globe including a fair amount of information from the UK and Canada. As the company is US (Boulder, Colorado) based I'd expect the content to be US-oriented and not be as comprehensive for the non-US genealogical community. I found that to be the case. Two of the features listed below are US-specific. Please take that into account in reading this review.

Mocavo offers basic and Plus (subscription) services.

As the site bills itself as a genealogy search engine that's what's of most interest. There is also a blog, written by former NEHGS staffer Michael J. Leclerc, which has helpful news and advice.

The basic (free) search has one search field whereas Mocavo Plus has multiple search fields for specific queries, such as first names, last names, birth dates, death dates, etc. It claims to have the knowledge to differentiate them all to bring you the best results possible.

As my test I focused on the Northwood surname which I know to have been present in Canada, the UK and US.

A basic Mocavo search for Northwood returned 988 hits from documents, 4,764 from records and 56,495 hits from the open web.

The first documents were directories, with the nicely highlighted hits being place names. The first records were all from the US Social Security Death Index.

Results from the open web search were from: distantcousin.com, rootsweb.ancestry.com, familysearch.org, ncigs.org, interment.net, boards.ancestry.com, uk-genealogy.org.uk, genforum.genealogy.com, geni.com (lots of these), arkansasgravestones.org, and others.

My attempts to use the advanced search with the last name Northwood delivered the same results as for the simple search and this included many cases where Northwood was a location, not a name.

Any search engine has to compare itself with Google so that's what I did searching Google encrypted, so eliminating any personalization. < Northwood ~genealogy > returned 673,000 hits compared to 56,495 Mocavo open web results. Mocavo is doing a filtering job -- the question is whether it's filtering out useful hits?

Homing right in with an Mocavo Plus advanced search for Harry Northwood of Wheeling, a well known glass maker, yielded seven good hits. Searching Google for "Harry Northwood" Wheeling ~genealogy gave 237 hits including several to the book "Harry Northwood: The Wheeling Years, 1901-1925" which Mocavo failed to identify!

A Mocavo advanced search for William Northwood of Ottawa yielded 23 hits, all from the open web and most of them articles from this blog. Google yielded 63 hits.

Finally an advanced Mocavo search for John Northwood of Wordsley, also a glass-maker, yielded one document and two open web results. Google returned 203 hits.

In summary, as I suspected most of the content in records and documents is US oriented. The open web coverage seems to be less US focused. Advanced search results for this admittedly limited study show Mocavo Plus is filtering out many hits found by a Google's search with ~genealogy as an added search term, and some of those have useful information for the family historian.

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