13 June 2008

The Ancestry Newspaper Rollout: Why I Say "Meh"

As you've undoubtedly heard, ancestry.com amped up their inventory of newspapers today.

I use the newspaper collection somewhat, and am glad to see that they have expanded their title base, but without a modified, clarified... or dare I say improved search function, this new collection will be just as useless as the last one.

When it comes to the search functions for their newspaper collection, why can't Ancestry seem to get exact phrase searches right? It's hardly impossible... Newspaperarchive.com used to have the same problem, but recently released a beta search that is lightyears better than what they had previously, and actually allows you to search for exact phrases. All of the NewsBank products have great exact-term searching. The best I've seen is the 19th Century Newspapers database put out by Gale, which serves up great results that match your search query, or it gives you nothing at all.

Call me selfish, but this is how I expect databases to act.

What I can't stand is a database that forces you to wade through thousands of false hits because it can't seem to consider a first and surname as a singular, searchable unit. Is this too much to ask from a genealogy website?

Until Ancestry can get their act together and get a proper search function up for their newspaper collection, these sorts of trumpeted rollouts will fall short. When they announced the impending paper rollout on May 5th of this year, the blog had the gumption to mention that "newspapers have not been highly used on Ancestry to date", as if they were perplexed by why that could be. The comments backed me up and made me realize I am not alone in my frustration with searching through the collection.

Am I just another frustrated "Jones" surname researcher? Perhaps. But I also love much of what Ancestry does across their site, and I appreciate that they are continually expanding the role of the internet in everyone's genealogy research. And as someone who really believes in the value of newspapers for genealogical research, I wish they would show those newspapers, and this new, vast newspaper collection, the respect that it so richly deserves.


Amanda said...

Yep... I agree with you. My first reaction when I heard about it was "Woohoo, free database" but then I thought about it again. I've only found ONE accurate hit in the past searches I've done in their newspaper section, despite it giving me hundreds of "matches." I will probably check it out sometime between now and the 19th, but I'm not expecting much.

GrannyPam said...

You hit the nail on the head here. I search for a very uncommon name, Yearnd. I get tons of year end and other close or not so close matches, but few that do.