Searching FamilySearch.org is not a one size fits all. Depending on what you are searching for, you need to use a different search system. Don’t think that because you’ve searched from the FamilySearch.org home page that you’ve searched everything that FamilySearch has to offer.
I’ve heard FamilySearch criticized on that point. Here are the different search systems. Searching any of these does not search any of the others.
- Searching historical record collections
- Searching user submitted IGI records
- Searching Ancestral File, Pedigree Resource File, or other patron contributed trees
- Searching the FamilySearch Family Tree
- Searching the titles of collections
- Searching the catalog formerly known as the FHLC (Family History Library catalog)
- Searching family and local history books
- Searching for centers formerly known as FHCs (family history centers)
- Searching the research wiki
- Searching the online genealogy courses
Searching the Q and A forums(one down)
- Searching the blog
- Searching the Help knowledgebase
While some of these systems could or should be combined, many should not. Why?
1. Context, context, context
A Google search for [Saint Mary] is almost never going to return what I am looking for. Google will desperately grasp at context. Past the Wikipedia article of Saint Mary, mother of Jesus (always a good Google guess), Google uses my location in Salt Lake City to return an article about “Saint Mary’s Home for Men of Salt Lake City.” Then it uses my search history and returns a link to this article, since I often select articles on http://ancestryinsider.blogspot.com. Beyond that, Google pretty much depends on a popularity contest with no idea of what I am looking for.
Things change on FamilySearch.org. I might do an exact search of the 1940 census for last name Saint Mary. I might do a location search in the catalog for Saint Mary. I might do an FHC search for Saint Mary. I might search Family Tree for first name Mary and last name Saint. I might search immigration record collections for a ship named Saint Mary. (OK. Actually, I can’t do that on FamilySearch, since they have yet to implement collection-specific search fields. However, I can do that on Ancestry.com. But I digress…)
In each of these cases each search system uses its context to determine my intent.
If one unified search system could read my mind, a combined search would be great. But somehow I want my search system(s) to know the difference between a person and a place. I don’t want my search system to give me results in poorly documented conclusion trees when I intend to search census and vital records. Nor do I want results from the English BMD indexes when I want a pedigree. I don’t want a golfer’s ancestors when I am searching for an online course about handwriting.
2. Error rate
Ancestry.com has been down the single search path before and learned some things. Because of what they learned, they separated these three search types—search for a person in a record, a person in a tree, and a person in a book—into three buckets that can be individually searched.
One measure of error is the number of false positives. A false positive is a search result that is wrong. Ancestry found that the false positive rate for books and newspapers was extremely high. Correct results from record collections (like census and vital records) were buried in false positives so deeply they never saw the light of day.
So should any of these searches be combined? I think so.
Could the searches of all tree systems be merged? Yes, I think that would be great. (I’d have to think about it, but you might be able to throw in user submitted IGI also.)
Could searches for places in the Wiki and online learning courses be merged? I think so. Place names in collection titles? Yes. What about catalog place search? Maybe. A good UI (user interface) might make all this work.
Until then, be aware that searching from the home page of FamilySearch.org does not search everything.