Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Librarians Express Concern Over HeritageQuest Changes

The old HeritageQuest interfaceOn 4 March 2015, took over operation of the HeritageQuest website on behalf of its owner, ProQuest. (See yesterday’s article, “ Did Not Buy HeritageQuest.”) Many parts of the HeritageQuest website were replaced with technology, including its search engine. These parts including an expanded U.S. Federal census, an expanded book collection, an expanded revolutionary war collection, and Freedman’s Bank records. PERSI and the U.S. Serial Set remain on the old HeritageQuest search engine.

Some librarians have expressed disappointment in the adoption of the search engine. I took the following quotes from the Librarians Serving Genealogists mailing list

“I taught an intro gen class to archivists last week and when I mentioned the upcoming change there were moans throughout the room. I tried to be upbeat! …I hope that I won't spend a lot of time in the coming days saying ‘what were they thinking.’ It breaks my heart, plain and simple.” —Mary Mannix. “Patrons are now calling in and complaining about the census search.” —Mary Mannix.

The index is a concern: “Personally I always thought HeritageQuest Online did more careful indexing than Ancestry.” —Irene Hansen

“I liked Heritage Quest the way it was, knowing and understanding its limitations, it was powerful in its own ways for census research, not the least of which were (1) indexing that was different than Ancestry’s, and (2) getting results for exactly what I asked, and nothing more.” —Claire Klusens.

“I loved the searches and could never understand why Ancestry for all it costs gives you way to many hits that are of no use and just a huge waste of time.” —Janice Healy

I used to think that enabling exact search was all that was necessary to solve the problem of too many results. As I watch genealogists work, though, I’ve found another important difference between old and new searches: grouping and sorting: “Now one can no longer do a search for, as an example, the number of individuals age 20-29 born in Denmark, Kentucky, etc. who were living in county X in 1880 (which one could do easily with no names in the old version), and then see a nice alphabetical listing of the individuals that fit those parameters - a great way to find those misspelled foreign surnames!” —Michele McNabb

HeritageQuest could change the sort order of the results by any column: “I do wonder why Ancestry can't at the very least allow different sorting functions (by county, date, etc.).”—Martha Grenzeback

And HeritageQuest grouped census results by state and county: “The old method was so much better. I use both Ancestry and HQ when I have difficulty in locating someone. In the old HQ you could search for a surname and it would give you everyone by that surname living in each county of the state. I have found many people this way. Due to the problems with legibility of census takers writing and with transcription errors, this method was very helpful.” —Carla Mellott

On one hand, HeritageQuest had a simple search system: “We had patrons who could not master Ancestry that could search HeritageQuest on their own.” —Susan Scouras

On the other, it was more powerful than the search system: “I just wish they had left open an area or some way for those who are comfortable with Boolean searches to use them!  Their current search methods are awkward approximations of a correctly structured Boolean search.” —Nancy Ross

One librarian reported why PERSI and the serial set were still on the old system: “I watched a Proquest webinar on the new HQ yesterday. According to that, the only reason those two sections have not been changed was because, in the case of PERSI, Proquest's contract with the Allen Co. Public Library will not give Ancestry access to the data, and, in the case of the U.S. Serial Set, the PDF format is not a format the Ancestry database mode can currently "ingest."  They are working on that one....” —Martha Grenzeback

Most people without complaints, or even pleased with a change, don’t tend to come online and register that opinion. But there are a few positive comments.

“From the customer perspective they are thrilled to bits to have free remote access to the census records.” —James Jeffrey

“I have found an improvement from the old HQ.  The Map Guide to U.S. Federal Censuses 1790-1920, by Thorndale and Dollarhide is no longer buried, but is top center beside Search and Research Aids. Those maps change least for genealogists.” —Laura Wickstead.   (Amen to that.)

“I tried the name Zachariah Blankenbeckler which I usually use when I demo in our class. …I got…hits [from] agricultural censuses I had not seen.” —Nancy Calhoun

So there it is, good and bad. What do you think? An overall win, or loss?


  1. Another side effect appears to be that HeritageQuest is no longer accessible through library accounts at home. I tried to log in this morning and a new message comes up saying "in library use only." Guess that permanently crosses HeritageQuest off my list as a back up because I have no intention of driving all the way to my library to look up one name or family.

    1. Perhaps there are two levels of subscription that libraries can buy?
      I just tested the Seattle Public library site, and, although my library card number was required as before, I got right in. I love the accessiblity of the Dollarhide Map Guide. I never knew it was there! I tested a few of my preferred searches and was able to find what I wanted. This might just take a little getting used to.

  2. Your access should not have changed. I am still able to access HQ through our library portal (as well as our state Library Commission portal). I would call your local library and ask them to check into this; it may be some temporary issue they are having.

  3. It would be an absolute win if adopted the better-quality images from HeritageQuest. Is there any chance of that?

  4. Personally, I liked the Heritage Quest search function better. Ancestry always gives mountains of names that are not remotely related to what I entered... in fact I enter white and get Black ... go figure.

  5. I am sorry to lose the search functionality of HQ, it was a nice alternative to Ancestry. I liked how you could find just search for one variable and it would show the counts for each county in the state, then you could drill down to get the individual records.

  6. I totaly agree with Michelle McNab.

  7. I find the changes very disappointing. With HeritageQuest you could download 50 pages of a book at a time for seamless reading. Now you can read and save a single page at a time, very tedious. Not a fan of the ancestry interface at all.

  8. I second concerns about the index, frequently HQ would return useful census entries that ancestry would miss. It would be nice if ancestry could include HQ index information in its search returns, possibly as an alternate spelling where relevant.

  9. and it greed to monoplize every aspect of on-line family research.. has just taken the joy out of it for me.. I can not afford ANY type of pay site..Living off a very limited income and everywhere you turn to search online it all leads back to and them wanting money to do it.. So disheartening!! and funny how they don't mention that in any of their commercials.. Just click on a leaf and your whole family tree just opens up... Not hardly.... just find it very sad that looking for ancestors has become all about money..

  10. Whenever there are two (or more) ways of doing things, people ALWAYS favor the one they learned first. I have been through this in my career with the various ways to look up IRS regulations and their interpretations, legal research indexes, etc. Just look at the tech world with its Mac vs PC or IPhone vs Android debates! It is always frustrating to learn new ways to do something you were proficient in. Unfortunately, it is the way of "progress" and there are good and bad to every upgrade or take over.

  11. Hi
    I agree with others. This new collaboration with HeritageQuest and is a step backwards.
    Here are some of the reasons;
    1) I used Heritage Quest census daily as it was much easier to find people in a county of a state vs Ancestry. I often could find things in HeritageQuest I could not find in Ancestry.
    2) Heritage Quest often had better copy of census records. They were clearer and easier to read.
    3) Searching books. HeritageQuest allowed you to search for two different names. Example (John Smith) and (Phebe Cornell)
    Now you can only search for one name. Now there are many more results that are returned that you have to go through to try and find the correct person you are looking for
    4) Now Ancestry version does not have the same books that Heritage Quest had. I went back to find a book and see the page that I had sourced and the book it is no longer available. I received an answer back from the help desk to confirm this. Now I have to try and find a library that has this book.

    How are these changes better? I now do not bother to use HeritageQuest as it seems a waste of my time. What a shame. It was so nice to have an alternative to to do research.

    Jeff H.

  12. Jeff -- try (which now includes the Family History Library holdings in its search results), GoogleBooks, HathiTrust, and the Internet Archive.

  13. I used Ancestry first and found Heritage Quest because I became so frustrated with the mountains of info that didn't relate in any way, shape or form to what I was looking for!! Heritage Quest was exactly what I needed and wanted and it was so simple to use. I loved it and continued to use it even as I became more and more drawn into ancestry. Ancestry bought not too long ago, and many are now wondering how long before they institute a similar method to access that info as well. Ancestry does not appear to care what their users think, they have a 'take it or leave it' attitude because they have sewn up just about every record a genealogist (or casual researcher) needs. And now access to their military records and anything outside of the US are additional charges. Since most genealogists are older, retired in fact, this has become a real burden. I'm going to have to drop my membership when my next renewal date rolls around and now I'm trying to decide what to do about the mountain of date I have there. Any suggestions?