Thursday, July 10, 2014

FamilySearch Catalog Improvement. Help Center Changes.

After my article last week on the new FamilySearch catalog, I was pleased to see a new feature that addresses one of my concerns. I’ve complained several times about FamilySearch’s use of inline expansion. I’m happy to report that the engineers on the records search team have addressed one of the problems. Let me illustrate the problem with an example from the help system.

Start on the record search main page. Click on “Get Help” at the top-right corner of the page. The FamilySearch help system displays a menu. (See Image 1 to the right). FamilySearch has improved their help system. It now displays context sensitive help. In other words, the menu changes depending on what page you are on.

Unfortunately, I think the help system has big problems. They haven’t separated the links between “Help about this page” and “Help in general.” And in some menus (like the one in Image 1), there is no link to the Help Center. That’s necessary in case you aren’t on the page associated with your question. There’s also no menu option for infrequently asked questions. What if my question is “How do I change a person’s portrait in Family Tree?” That won’t be in the FAQs (frequently asked questions). Nor does it warrant an answer among the Tips and Tricks. FamilySearch has hidden the place to get such questions answered. (You must click on FAQs and use a search box above the list of frequently asked questions.)

But I digress…

FamilySearch help system menu
Image 1 – Get Help drop down menu for Search pages

All the links in the Self Help section go to the same Help page. The difference is that a different section of the Help page is expanded inline. Using inline expansion has several problems. The expanded page often can’t be bookmarked, the URL can’t be shared, the expanded section can’t be separately printed, and the browser’s Find function sometimes malfunctions.

As an example, go to the historical records search page on and click the Get Help link in the upper-right corner. FamilySearch displays the drop-down menu shown in Image 1. Click on FAQs and the FamilySearch help system opens the help page and opens up the FAQs section as shown in Image 2, below-left. Click on the Learning Center Video Courses section title and the page opens up that section as shown in Image 3, below-right.

FamilySearch help page with FAQs expanded
Image 2 – Help page showing FAQs, expanded inline

FamilySearch help page with Learning Center section expanded
Image 3 – Same page, only with Learning Center section expanded inline

Now bookmark the page. If you try the bookmark, you will find it fails. Instead of the page view in Image 3, you get the page view in Image 2. Likewise, if you wish to share the list of video courses with a friend by copying the URL (which is, your friend may be lost and confused. Type Control-F and search for “browse” and you too may be lost and confused when your browser indicates it has found a match, but the word is nowhere to be found. (It occurs in one of the unexpanded sections.)

Click on Tips and Tricks and then click FamilySearch Tips and Tricks. This popup view is impossible to bookmark or share.

And that is what the search system engineers have fixed in the new FamilySearch Catalog. If I expand a subject to show the titles, and I bookmark the page or send a URL to a friend, they will see the same thing I see—the subject titles expanded inline. Click this link to see an example with the Archives and Libraries section expanded inline. Maybe the search system engineers can teach the help system engineers how to implement this in the help system.

The good news is that FamilySearch has fixed the FAQs, which previously revealed answers via inline expansion. Now each question and answer opens a new page.

As long as I’ve ragged a bit on FamilySearch help, let me rag a bit more.

  • FamilySearch still hides the Family Tree manual amidst the Learning Center Video Courses.
  • If you do find it, it is two years out of date.
  • The search box in the FAQs section is inconsistent with the rest of It uses red highlighting to indicate the box is selected and the red changes to blue once the user begins typing.
  • The search doesn’t always work. For example, there is an article that explains how to change the preferred portrait in Family Tree. However, the search function can not find it.

Hat’s off to the Record Search engineers for fixing one of the problems I had with the new catalog. Time is ticking. Get your suggestions in before it is too late.


  1. Your articles are so helpful and so appreciated! Thanks for all you do to keep us on the right track.

  2. My biggest complaint is that the new catalog does not print an entry (on paper or pdf) anywhere as nice as the original catalog (previous catalog). The type is too big, too light and too spaced out and often times something else you don't need prints with it.

    Entries in the previous catalog print much better -- right size type, dark type, properly spaced with no extra images or unneeded stuff AND in most cases it prints on just one sheet (of paper or pdf.) It is very simple to do once you are at the entry you want. You just scroll down and click on the view printable version and use your browser's print button. And then hit page back to go back to the catalog entry.

    Why would we (the users) want to print a catalog entry on paper or pdf? So we can continue to work when/where there is no internet connection. (The young have a hard time with this concept sometimes.) Here's one example: The local Family History Centers here do not offer wireless connection for patrons. So having a nicely printed paper/pdf for the microfilm I rented right next to me is much easier/faster than going across the room and waiting for access to a computer. I have the answer right there in front of me if I can't remember which microfilm has what on it or in what order were things imaged on the film. I save time and can do more research with the time I have available because I am prepared. Also, I have most if not all of the information I need to properly source/cite the facts/information I use.

    For most entries that I've printed to paper or pdf, the only thing that will change in the future is the line, this is also available in a digital format. The meat of the entry will still be the same.

  3. Yes I also have been confused and frustrated by the help center at It is slowly improving (Thank goodness they took out the "product support" link.) I wish they had thing better divided into categories and sub categories and kept things more up to date. Don't get me wrong, Familysearch is a great site but some of their engineer/design results leave me thinking "the lights are on but nobody's home"

  4. If you're going to do a little more deep diving maybe you should also contact your local county clerk with some record requests? Just updated contact info for all of the county clerks in every county of the USA (there's over 3,200 of them!). Check out County Clerks :-)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.