Tuesday, November 16, 2010

FamilySearch – Another Experiment

Although I have been extremely busy the last several months, I have managed to squeeze in some research time.  And over the last few weeks, I noticed the FamilySearch Record Pilot Search didn’t have any red stars indicating new/updated collections.  The first week I thought it was me, or that they simply hadn’t made any updates that week.  Even though they are constantly updating, I thought, hey everyone needs a day off.  But the following week, again, no stars.  What’s going on?

In a post I wrote back in September, FamilySearch – Out With the Old and In With the New…Please, I Hope Not!, I expressed my frustration with FamilySearch Beta, and have continued to use Records Pilot Search.  But seeing the lack of stars got me wondering if they were perhaps no longer updating the Pilot.   So another experiment was underway.

I headed over to Beta and noticed plenty of stars indicating new/updated collections.  Comparing the list in Beta to the list in Pilot, it was clear to me that Pilot is NOT being updated.  For example, take a look at the collections listed for Illinois (see below).  The first list is Pilot, the second is Beta, both as of 6 pm today.  Notice there is a new collection as of November 13th (highlighted).



So with this being the case, I guess I better get used to Beta, even though I will be kicking and screaming along the way.  Although I had a bit of a hissy fit in my last post on this subject (the one mentioned earlier), I thought I’d go ahead and expand on that, sharing some of the improvements that I’ve noticed, as well as some positive observations, and of course other areas for improvement. 

Historical Records

I’ll start by reviewing the items I wrote about in the earlier post.

  • Filtering Options – While this is still not available, I have heard that this will be added in the future (hopefully the NEAR future!).
  • Search Screen – No improvement there and I don’t anticipate any changes, so I guess I’ll have to get used to it.

Beyond that, I noticed that the collection list shows the number of records and the date the collection was updated (see below).


While I like seeing the updated date, I’d much rather see the percent complete, as opposed to the number of records.  In fact, I noticed quite some time ago that the percent complete was missing from Pilot, and that was driving me nuts.  The percent complete is helpful, because most times, when they add a collection, it’s only part of the collection, with planned updates to complete the collection in the future.  It’s nice to know if a collection is complete or only partially complete.  For example, when they added the Cook County (Illinois) Birth records, neither of the two databases were complete.  So I did my searches, and for those I did not find, I added a To Do item so that they next time either database was updated, I could research those particular people again.  However, now that the collections do not contain the percent complete, I have no idea if I should keep a lookout for these collections to be updated or if the collection is complete and there is simply no record for the person/people I am looking for.

One thing I like about the Beta collection list is the little camera icon to the left of the item.  This icon indicates whether this is a collection of images (in most cases actual records) or simply an index.

FHL Catalog

Drastic changes abound.  First, they appeared to have fixed the issue I mentioned with regard to searching by place names.  Back in September, when I searched for “Oakland” (no quotes), as I would have in the “old” catalog, I did not find the county of Oakland in Michigan.  It was only when I added “county” (no quotes) to the search that I got what I wanted.  Now, when you start typing in a place name, it will start to list places that match the criteria; the more characters you enter, the more narrow it gets (see below).



I’m not sure how I feel about this.  They’re not listed in alphabetical order like in the “old” catalog (see below). 


Instead, it appears that they are listed by type:  first counties (e.g., Michigan, Oakland), then towns (e.g., California, Alameda, Oakland), then towns within the county (e.g., Michigan, Oakland, Addison Township).  Of course, though, it does not show a complete listing (e.g., there are several additional towns in Oakland County, Michigan, than what appears).  As you can see by comparing the results from the “old” catalog (which had more not captured in the screenshot) and Beta, Beta is lacking in matches.  Regardless, it’s certainly better than it was.

And by far the biggest improvement is the search results.  Instead of a mangled list of random catalog entries, the results list is nearly identical to the “old” catalog (see below).  The exception being the order of some results, such as “Genealogy” now listed after “Genealogy – Periodicals.”  The nice thing about Beta is that it lists the number of sources available in each category.



The downfall in Beta comes when you view the results of a category; they are not in alphabetical order as they are in the “old” catalog.  But the nice thing about the individual catalog entry is that you have the film information on the same screen, whereas in the “old” catalog, you had to click the “View Film Notes” button.  Furthermore, all films are on one screen, as opposed to 100 at a time.  While this makes for excessive scrolling, I gotta say, it’s better than having to load four pages to get to the portion of films you need (e.g., a set of 500+ films that contain probate records for a county covering the period of 1840 to 1924, and you want 1915…that’s on the fourth page of film results; or the same set of films that has various types, such as estates, letters of administration, and guardianship, which may be missed if you don’t go through all the pages of the film listing).


I am glad to see that they are making improvements to Beta.  It’s slowly getting better, but I wish they were still dually updating Pilot as that search interface is much easier to navigate.  I think once Beta offers the search filtering options for Historical Records, I’ll be much more comfortable using Beta, but until then, I guess I just have to muddle through.



OurFamily said...


Pilot is not being updated anymore. The technology it is based on requires 4x the resources as beta and has reached capacity.

We have plans to add a % complete and are trying to determine how to do that much more accurately than Pilot did.

In the catalog place drop down there is a shortcut that will be of use to patrons. Partial places work such that "Fra, Par" will return France, Paris. The results under each subject will be alphabetized in a future release. We will be making the Subject and Author searchers similar to how Place search behaves. We will also be adding the "See Also" & related places as well as place notes and the volumes in a serial publication.

Patrons will also see filtering on results similar to what Pilot offered over the coming months.

-Robert Kehrer
Product Mgr (Search)

OurFamily said...


RecordSearch is being deprecated because the technology and hardware it is based upon requires many times the resources to deliver the same records and features as Beta, has reached capacity, and does not have required technologies to support the many types of licenses that govern the records FamilySearch hosts. All new record collections will be added to Beta.

Beta is a construction project in progress, but it is moving very quickly. We expect to be adding improved search forms, filters similar to Pilot, improvement in results quality and many other things over the coming months.

We are looking for ways to provide a % complete on the "All Collections" page, or on the collection details page, which is more accurate than what is on Pilot. Since a collection can be split between the online search, indexing, microfilm, and the state house in Alabama, it was never clear to users if they had exhaustively searched the entire collection.

Future releases of the catalog search will make the Author and Subject search display results in a similar fashion to Place search. We will also be adding historical place notes, alternative place names, Related places (sub & super jurisdictions with title counts) and volumes in a serial periodical. Also, titles will be displayed alphabetically within a subject.

Robert Kehrer
Sr. Product Mgr - Search

Julie Cahill Tarr said...

Robert, thanks for the additional information and heads-up on future enhancements. I know it will get there someday. I'm all for change, I'm just impatient :)

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