Friday, October 28, 2011

Darned Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois

Records say the darnedest things

We depend upon records to reveal the “truth” about our pasts.

Yet sometimes records have anomalies.
Some are amusing or humorous.
Some are interesting or weird.
Some are peculiar or suspicious.
Some are infuriating, even downright laughable.

Yes, Records say the Darnedest Things.”

Records Say the Darnedest Things: Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois

A reader, Jason Thompson, recently wrote and pointed out something unusual about the town of Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois in the FamilySearch collection, “Illinois State Census, 1865.” What’s unusual is, it doesn’t exist.

FamilySearch misread Ganeer as Oliver

Search Engine Optimization

To check it out for myself, I thought I’d take a shortcut to the record collection by Googling the collection title. The Google search results show how much catching-up FamilySearch needs to do. Result #1 is an collection, “Illinois State Census Collection, 1825-1865.” Result #8 is the first FamilySearch link, to a wiki article about the collection. (I’ve circled both in the screen shot, below.) The actual collection doesn’t show up at all.

Google search results place database way above FamilySearch

FamilySearch implemented their collection list in a way that makes the list invisible to Google. Consequently, Google doesn’t know about their collections. Freshman error. They’ll get it fixed soon enough. First they have bigger fish to fry. And I have digressed away from one…

Browse Hierarchy

The browse hierarchy correctly identifies Ganeer, IllinoisI checked the browse structures on Ancestry and FamilySearch. The two are the same except where FamilySearch has the town of Oliver, Kankakee County (below, left), Ancestry has Ganeer (right).

The browse hierarchy incorrectly identifies Ganeer as Oliver, Illinois


Images are available on both websites, so I clicked through to look at the first image on each. I clicked on FamilySearch and saw the image below, left. I clicked on and saw the image on the right.

The enumerator mispelled Ganeer as Genier The "pay wall"

Okay, that was a cheap shot. The image is free on FamilySearch and what you see above, right, is the “pay wall.”

The quality of the image on Ancestry depends a bit on what browser you use. With Internet Explorer, it looks like the image below, left. With other browsers, it looks like the image on the right.'s advanced image viewer in Internet Explorer displays better image quality's basic image viewer washes out images

I can see how Ganeer might be misread as Olevier, but Oliver would be a stretch, particularly for someone who has read my articles about the importance of context when indexing. No one with a list of Kankakee County localities (towns, villages, and unincorporated places) is going to come up with Oliver.


“I brought this [error] to the attention of FamilySearch,” said Jason Thompson, “and was referred to a web page stating that corrections simply can't be made to their records, no matter the circumstance.” Apparently, the support rep thought this was a run-of-the-mill indexing error.

Browse hierarchy errors are not created by indexers and are far more intrusive.

“This single error impacts 6 census images, 222 records, and 1,341 individuals,” said Thompson.

Thompson “reopened” his question to FamilySearch support. This escalates the issue up the support food chain. This time he was told

We report [these issues] for an engineering fix. When this collection comes up for review...all of the problems ever reported will be fixed and the collection republished. The fixes you are suggesting would require changes to the index, relinking to images and republishing the entire collection. It can't be done piecemeal.

There is a “Known Issues” section in each collection’s wiki article. I think it can be used to report these types of issues. See where I’ve done just that for the Oliver/Ganeer issue.

Oliver, Kankakee, Illinois? Yes, records say the darnedest things.


  1. Your implied suggestion for indexers (and the suprevisory/organizational staff who set up templates) to have locality lists handy is a good one. But it does no good to have great gazetteers available if ~no one looks at them~.

    There are great and easy to find locality lists and guides for England, Scotland and Wales, but -- lest it be thought that does better than FamilySearch -- can't seem to figure out how to get places listed in the right old-Counties or shires (for Census enumerations). Or even how to name localities correctly for USA post-1840 enumerations when they are almost always very clearly written at the top of the page. Want Orient Gore? Search for Orient Grove. Eagle District? Search for Cogle. In some collections some USA Counties in PA, ME and MD have "shire" appended to the name (except Worcester, which is spelt Worchester). One could go on a long time about this.

    And the spell-out of the 1850 US Census abbreviation "Ia." for Indiana is still usually "Iowa" at One hundred and sixteen thousand times for people then living in Indiana. Iowa's total population was counted as 192,531 in the 1850 enumeration.

  2. Just found another variation on place indexing errors at Family Search:
    American cities that have the same name as a European city will be filter in Europe, if the index did not specify the country or state.
    A child born 1882 in "Toledo" and died 1885 in "Toledo, Lucas, Ohio" filters as born in "Spain";
    A child born 1889 in "Dublin" and died 1889 in "Dublin Twp.,​ Mercer, Ohio" filters as born in "Ireland".
    I've seen the reverse as well in U.S. records, but find that a little more understandable.


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