Thursday, June 25, 2009

Has Google Conditioned FamilySearch Patrons?

This is one of a series of articles about Google’s search interface and its application to genealogy.

Dan Lawyer, FamilySearch product manager made this comment:

FamilySearch Product Managers have not suggested that Google is good at searching genealogical data. They have correctly (in my opinion) understood that Google has trained the masses to use a single field for search. The logic then follows that if…using a single field search for genealogy could [be made to work well], then those that are new to genealogy may more quickly be productive if they are able to use their current search paradigm.

Dan has worked tirelessly to make genealogy simple for “the masses.” He has my respect and full support.

In my article, “Google’s Spartan Interface,” I talked about the widespread praise Google’s single-field interface has received. It’s no wonder that product managers at both FamilySearch and have asked product developers to study the possibility of applying such an approach to genealogy.

But I’d like to raise the issue that Google-conditioned masses probably don’t correlate with existing users. By making genealogy easier for the masses, do you disorient existing users? I used to compare the demographics of users (below, left) and (below, right).

(If you can’t see the demographics in the table above, try viewing this article on my website.)

The numbers on the right side of each report are compared to 100, the Internet average. As you can see, Google and FamilySearch demographics are almost complete opposites. Without exception, anytime one of the two is above the Internet average, the other is below.

I'm guessing about 80% of the patrons I help at my FHC are regular searchers, but I doubt very much that more than 25% of them use Google.

What do you think? Can you think of an intuitive way to enter genealogy searches into a single field?

Click “Comments” below to share your thoughts.


  1. No, I don't think single field is a good idea. should concentrate on extending their wildcard capability instead. The restrictions are really hampering my searches

  2. I use Google extensively, and actually find those single-field searches to be more profitable, since using Boolean and advanced parameters I can weed out unnecessary "noise" in a much easier fashion than I can with many multiple-field search panels. After all, you're not locked into the search logic the multiple-panel search fields set up for you; in a single-field, you are free to frame searches for the many different situations and types of genealogy queries you may run.

    A single-field search parameter, as an option, may be nice, in that it really can present a more nimble search-function than multiple fields, ASSUMING proper wildcard and Boolean searches are allowed. Which, as previous commenter suggested, is a MAJOR defect in ancestry's search.

    I agree that limiting search to one field could disorient a lot of users... the genealogy researcher subset on the internet, while an increasingly learned and tech-adept crowd, still has some major demographic differences with the rest of the 'net per se.

  3. And here I thought we were reading about FamilySearch not Ancestry...

    But for my two cents, I think that it would be fantastic if FamilySearch could offer both. That way whatever someone was comfortable with would be there.


  4. Q: Are search engines databases?

    I use search engines' single field to look for a single search term. If I don't find what I'm looking for, I change the search term. I could refine my search by using quotes, +, or -, but I rarely do.

    To find a person in a database, like white pages or one of the genealogy sites, query fields matching data fields are appropriate. I would like to see a county field in RecordSearch, like Ancestry and HeritageQuest.

  5. I use Google, FamilySearch, and Ancestry. I don't see the single-field genealogy search taking off well. As a technical guy, I can see using it if it were designed such that I could do something like "John Doe" +birth:1800-1805 +location:"Anytown, USA" or something similar. But with the current demographic, I think a multiple field search option should be standard and primary and any efforts to develop a single-field search should be built secondary and those younger or more tech-savvy can use it to be more efficient.