Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One Search - Different Results

If you search two databases for the same information why are the results so different?

I have ancestors buried at New York’s historic Green-Wood cemetery and have used their website http://www.green-wood.com/burial_search/ to complete the research. One of the surnames I search for is “Stearns” and the non-date limited search on the cemetery’s site yields 56 burials. There is a disclaimer that all records are not indexed and some records are incomplete.

Well, the “same” database was just brought up on Ancestry.com and there are 774 Stearns. WHAT????? So – I tried it again with the same results. At that point I went back to the Ancestry.com results and clicked on the about this database prompt shown below. This is a good place to look for details about a specific database. This time there was even a link to the originating database at the cemetery which was really handy but did not clear up the issue.

So what caused it? Bad data?  Lazy indexing?  Bad Karma? NOPE – The issue is how the records are indexed!

Those of us that are used to the big (Ancestry, Rootsweb, FamilySearch, etc.) websites commonly enter a surname search and trust that the results will include similar sounding names (SOUNDEX) to be included in our results. We (I) forget that most websites just search for what you asked for. Since spelling is a fluid thing and indexing is a human thing, it’s a good idea to keep track of what type of indexing the site uses and when you should expand the surnames for which you are searching.

Note: to those of you unfamiliar with SOUNDEX  or need to check a SOUNDEX code: http://searches.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/Genea/soundex.sh

Also, thanks for the prayers regarding Hurricane Irene. It looks like she’ll miss most of Myrtle Beach and now we pray for those in the Outer Banks – she could scrub those lovely barrier islands and change everything.

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