On 4 March 2015, Ancestry.com took over operation of the HeritageQuest website on behalf of its owner, ProQuest. (See yesterday’s article, “Ancestry.com Did Not Buy HeritageQuest.”) Many parts of the HeritageQuest website were replaced with Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 lives...at 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?