These are my notes from the session “Future Directions in Search,” by Ian Tester, a product manager at findmypast.co.uk, a brightsolid website.
As an aside, Tester mentioned that Find My Past will shortly be adding records from Ireland.
Ian Tester of Find My Past said the input to a search is a little bit of information about an ancestor, and the output is an ancestor. (Wrong, Ian. The output of a genealogy search is not a person, but a record. You’re committing the mistake that I’ve so often criticized in this space. Genealogy is deceptively complex. Sources, information, and evidence are distinctly different than conclusions, ancestors, and trees. The family history community badly needs tree management applications that include evidence management. But I digress…)
The 1901censusonline search form has lots of search fields that have no meaning to foreigners and some of little meaning to Englishmen, said Tester. This could be simplified to who, where, when, what, and with whom.
“It’s not just about having three fields instead of 20,” he said. Users need better, more intuitive ways of specifying who, where, and when. Why did the GRO stop recording middle names, then start again? The search experience should adjust to user input accordingly.
Find My Past is doing experiments on identifying connections between records, such as matching the bride and groom in marriage records. It will give you the likelihood that a couple is a match.
Another possibility is matching of family groups between censuses using algorithmic rules. Tester said they worked with genealogists talking to developers to teach computers to think like family historians. “Although we were doing it as an experiment, we were amazed at the efficiency that the machines could do.”
“You don’t want to return results so exactly that you eliminate the serendipitous result.” (Ian, I think there is room for both. That is why the user should be able to choose between exact and ranked results. Oops; I’ve digressed again.)
If you’re going to return matches from user submitted trees, you better be explicit about doing this and do it sensitively. (Ian, how right you are!)
A lot of what the industry has been doing Tester calls “digitize and dump.” “When you put data online you don’t have to leave it as static data,” said Tester. “You can nurture it and grow it. Use the power of your users—human intelligence—to improve the data.” (Ian, you are spot on.)
When Tester asked for questions, the first person didn’t ask a question, but made a list of suggestions. Ian loved it, saying they were super ideas.
That’s what RootsTech was all about.