Casefile Clues

23 April 2014

The More Specific I Am the More Hits I Get

Again, I am confused by Ancestry.com's search. 

Ok, I'm not really confused. I know it's not working the way it is supposed to and I'm irritated. I love the wildcard options we have, but there's simply something about the search algorithm (or at least the error message) that is incorrect. 

It was fairly simple. I wanted to search for Johann(es) Grass who is believed to have made the trip from Germany to the United States in the 1880s. I'm not exactly certain of the year, but the Ostfriesen native appears as a sponsor for a grandchild in Illinois in the 1880s. Those details formed the basis of my search. 

Not certain of what port Johann would have used for his arrival, I chose to search all of the "Immigration & Travel" records at Ancestry.com by searching as shown below.


There were only 132 hits. This is not so many that I cannot go through all of them, but I decided that since Johann was around 1815, I would refine my search to concentrate on immigrants of that age.

And so I added 1815 (plus or minus ten years) to my search.That should give me fewer hits and make it easier to concentrate on those items that match my more narrow search.

Except I got "Too many matches."

How can there be too many matches? I've refined my search even more than it was originally constructed.

This search is more narrow than the one that resulted in 132 hits. I should have obtained fewer than 132 hits.

How can less than 132  be "too many?"

This is not the first time I have received results of this type.

I don't want to be told to "refine" my search--that's what I did.

I don't want to be told to search specific databases--after all, we're told now that "broad" and "global" searches are the way to go. That's how searchers get a more "positive user experience." I have a "positive user experience" when search responds in a way that makes sense.

There is no reason why this search should return "too many hits."

My problem with this is two-fold:

  • There simply are not too many hits to display them.
  • If Ancestry.com cannot get this search to work the way that it should, are there other searches (ones that don't give errors) that might not be working correctly? It makes me wonder if I'm missing results (and maybe there were "other" Bernards on my search from yesterday that simply didn't show up). My conclusion that I had "my" Bernard yesterday was partially based on what search results were returned to me by the search at Ancestry.com
Many of us make conclusions based upon search results at various sites. We may not want to admit it, but we do....especially when we are looking for a needle in a haystack and don't have any other contextual names upon which to draw conclusions. That's the case with Bernard--he traveled alone. 

I just wish Ancestry.com could make this search work the way it should work. 

I don't need smart phone apps. I don't need the ability to research at 3 a.m. on my cell phone in my bed when I'm half asleep. I don't need to know where my DNA was 2,000 years ago.

And I don't need lectures on Boolean searching--which is what I got from a staffer a few years ago. I have a master's degree in mathematics--I understand Boolean logic, ands, inclusive ors, exclusive ors, nested searches, order of operations, etc. etc. 

I just need this damned search to work. 


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