Sunday, June 30, 2013

Census Sunday - Why I Prefer's Old Search

I received an email from this week announcing that their Old Search will be discontinued within the next six months. The email stated that as part of the 2% of subscribers that use the Old Search, they were reaching out to get my inputs on potential improvements. I went ahead and took the survey that was linked in the email, but it's easier to explain why I prefer the Old Search by looking at the results of both searches.

For initial searches on a name, I typically try something like this:
  • Check the "Exact matches only" box in the Old Search and use wildcards. For my Creeden surname, I've found that Cre*d*n catches most spellings without pulling in too many unrelated names. For this example, I'll use Tim* Cre*d*n to compare the census results of the two searches. I could also narrow this down by a location or date, but for this initial search, I'll look at all of the results.
  • Repeat the same search in the New Search using the Categories tab.
  • If I don't find what I'm looking for, I try other options such as not checking the Exact matches box, different spellings, Soundex, locations, dates, and entering more information in the Advanced search fields.

Here are the results of an exact match search for Tim* Cre*d*n in the Old Search:

Using the Census & Voter Lists as an example, I can quickly see that there are 314 matches and they are ranked by number of matches. I find that the underlining of each link to a record set and the alternating pale green and white background helps me read the information. The font is fairly bold and easy to read. As I scan down the results, I quickly see the number of matches right next to the record set.

The New Search results look like this. I'm using the Categories tab to compare the same kind of results.

I find this quite a bit harder to read. There is an alternating green and white background on the records sets, but the green is barely there. The text is paler too and looks slightly smaller. The links to the record sets aren't underlined and there is more white space between them. I have to scan all the way to the right to see the number of matches. There are 12 record sets shown in the same space where I could see 17 record sets in the Old Search without scrolling. On the plus side, there is a list of categories on the left with the number of matches for each one. Clicking on these brings up options to narrow down which record set you want to view, so this is a nice feature.

I also noticed that there were 332 matches in the Census & Voter lists, while the Old Search only found 314. I would guess this is due to Ancestry adding some of their improvements or record sets to the New Search only. As I found out when I clicked on specific results, some entire record sets are left out of the Old Search results.

Clicking on "View all 314 results" in the Old Search brings up the following screen:

Again, I can quickly scan down the results and see what records I'm interested in. The text is bold and the alternating green and white backgrounds helps to separate the lines, but without taking up more screen space.

Clicking on "See all 332 results" in the New Search brings up the following screen:

Here the text is paler and harder for me to read, but the New Search adds a nice capability to narrow the categories down by decades. However, it looks like they're eliminated the Old Search's capability to sort the results alphabetically. In both cases, I'm showing 20 results per page, but this can be adjusted to 10, 20, or 50 for both searches.

Aha, and now I see that there are 16 matches for the Ireland, Tithe Applotment Books that weren't in the Old Search. This could be very important in this case since my Creeden ancestor came from Ireland. I also found two other record sets with 1 match each that weren't included in the Old Search.

In Ancestry's email, they state that they want to make improvements in the following areas:
  • More relevant search results with the best results at the top
  • Easier refining and control of your search results
  • Keeping a better history of the work you have done
  • Publishing more new content and more corrections to existing content
  • Performance improvements to return results faster

They don't mention readability of the results and I fear that the format I prefer will be gone. This isn't a deal breaker for me and I do appreciate the additional capabilities in the New Search. I also understand from a software point of view that it would be more expensive to continue to maintain both searches. I just wish it was easier on my eyes!

What do you think? Do you prefer the Old or New Search?

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