Thursday, October 23, 2008

Just What Is "Ranked Search"?

Okay folks, this is probably the best explanation I have seen thusfar! And, as always, I love the wit!

The following comes from the "Ancestry Insider":

Ancestry's Ranked Search
Posted: 23 Oct 2008 01:05 AM CDT

Look guys, if you're not going to pay attention, you're going to look stupid.
GNW writes,
I don't like any of the searches at It takes too much time to weed through all the results that have nothing that connects to your search. If you put in a name, dates, family members and they lived in that same county and state all of their lives, married there, and then died there, why should they start out with people who lived 1,000 miles from that location and was born 30 years after that person died? That is unforgiveable [sic] and simply put, STUPID.
Let me put together the reasons why this happens and tell you if something is being done about it. Then I'll give GNW what's coming to him.

Everyone needs a good search strategy
Ancestry's Relevance Ranked search works pretty much under the same assumptions as television's Dr. House:
Everybody lies
Everybody screws up
(Before I get into my discussion of ranked searching, let me say that if checking the Exact search box in the new search interface doesn't work as expected, you need to inform Find a current discussion on New Search on the official Blog and leave a comment.)

The faulty world
Put in the context of genealogical research, Dr. House's philosophy translates to, "take nothing for granted." Take for example, a census record. On any given page of the census somewhere you can find with 95% certainty at least one of the following faults:
The census forms, questions or process gathered imprecise or ambiguous information.
The respondent gave the enumerator incorrect information or avoided him altogether. Concepts of exactness in spelling and dating have not always been as strict as today, so the spelling of names could vary wildly. Neighbors were sometimes called upon to give information for those not at home. Respondents sometimes gave information for far away relatives they feared might not be counted.

The enumerator wrote down incorrect information or didn't record everything and everyone that he was supposed to do. Sometimes fraudulent names and data were added.

Often, a second copy of each census schedule was hand copied, introducing inadvertent errors. Sometimes, these copies are all that have survived for use today.

While using the census records for their original purposes, names and information were overwritten, making some information illegible, some inconsistent with other information on the page and some incorrect.

The census records were not always properly conserved and might no longer be legible or even extant. As ink fades, the lighter strokes of cursive handwriting can change the apparent spelling of names and places. Some were microfilmed out of focus and then the originals destroyed.
The information on the census was incorrectly abstracted (i.e., extracted or indexed). Or one or more names or pages were skipped. Sometimes information vital to the interpretation of a census entry was written outside the normal fields or the abstraction software was not capable of capturing it.

The electronic search index includes errors making some records impossible to find. It might exclude some names or groups of names. Sometimes information is incorrectly indexed because of faulty standardization or handling of abbreviations, names, dates and places.

Sometimes you, the user, make typographical errors when typing information into search forms. And sometimes the targets of our searches show up in unexpected times and places.

A similar list can be produced for other types of records. Simply put, people screw up. A good searcher takes each of these errors into account and devices a search strategy accordingly. Have you ever used a successive term-dropping round-robin search to find a misindexed name? (Drop the first name, then the middle name, then the last name.) Have you ever used the successive term-dropping technique to find a person when you only had a vague guess about their location? But strip away the romance of performing dozens or hundreds of searches for one target record and the search strategy is pretty consistent. And pretty repeatable. And pretty mundane.

The ideal world
Wow! That's exactly what computers do better than humans. Lots and lots and lots of redundant tasks. So let's program the computer to do the ideal search strategy for us. I'm talking about the ideal world here, for a moment. Neither nor anyone else has it right... yet.
Don't make me try all the nicknames, or even trust me to know or remember them all. Don't make me study out all the common name spellings. Don't make me study historical linguistics to find out how German pronunciation would affect phonetic name spellings. Let some expert somewhere do it once and let us all benefit from it. Don't make me explicitly search the census for family members to try and find my guy. The computer has my tree; do that search for me. Don't make me do successive term-dropping to account for the faults from the list above. Do it for me. Don't make me figure out every different name that a location was ever known by. Look them up and try them all for me. Hey, and while you're at it, can you account for common transliterations and other typos?

The real world
I'm happy to announce that has been working on just such a feature for several years now. Some of the kinks are worked out. Some are not. It is called Relevance Ranked searching.

The reason you get results 30 years after the death date is because the death date you entered might be wrong or the death date on results listed might be wrong.

The reason you get results 1,000 miles away is because a location might be wrong.

The reason you get results with different names is... well you get the picture.

So it is entirely normal to get results that don't match all of your criteria. That is by design. It is entirely normal to get way too many results. They are sorted from best to worst. Look through the results until your superior brain says, "I've reached the point where the quality of the results is less than what I am willing to wade through." Then let your superior brain zero in on a particular record collection or database. Or change the search criteria. Click the exact box on selected items. Then try another search. Gradually release the autopilot and take greater control of the search. But do it after you've let the ranked search take its best crack at it. has stated that they think their current algorithm has a big problem: it ranks results by how many search terms match but doesn't penalize non-matches. Kendall Hulet discussed that here and Anne Mitchell brought it up again in this comment. Will they be able to fix this problem?

What does your brain do differently when it says, "poppycock, that's not a match!" versus "There he is! In Kansas?" If they can figure that out, then they can fix this problem.

Put up or shut up
Now, in true Dr. House's juvenile fashion, I'd like to respond to GNW.
Ancestry's STUPID!?! Nah, uuuh!!! You're stupider... to infinity!!! You didn't listen, so now you look stupid. Remember that lecture where I showed my superior intelligence? Told you not to complain without giving a specific example? I said, "Put up or shut up." Remember? Sure I misspelling corral multiple times... In multiple ways... But, hey! I'm not stupid! You complained without giving a specific example so you're stupid!

[This is where Dr. Cuddy says, "Careful or your face will stay like that!"]

Give me the "name, dates, family members" that you typed into the search form. You said they "lived in that same county and state all of their lives, married there, and then died there." If I understand you correctly, you say that the very first results "start out with people who lived 1,000 miles from that location and [were] born 30 years after that person died." Send me the example and I'll make certain it gets to the right people.

Please, everybody. Don't ever again bring up the problem of ranked results that don't match the input criteria. We've established that that is sometimes good and sometimes bad and that has plans to improve this.

Oh, and please don't read through all 24,521 results of a ranked search. When you get that many results in Google you say, "Wow! Google's awesome." But you don't try every single result.
Lastly, I'm tired of complaints without actionable examples. It makes real problems sound like unfounded emotionalism.

Put up [examples]. Or shut up. Please!

Notice: The Ancestry Insider is independent of and The opinions expressed herein are his own. Trademarks used herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners. The name Ancestry Insider designates the author's status as an insider among those searching their ancestry and does not refer to

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Slap On The Wrist???

We've all read in the papers, or actually seen the results in person, of cemetery vandalism.

This past Memorial Day, my Dad and I went to our local cemeteries where for years we have honored our ancestors by laying flowers upon their graves. The vandalism was rampant in even our rural neck of the woods!

It is heartbreaking to see such disrespect for those who have lived and died in our communities, and especially when it is some of our ancestor's graves.

Well, one Marshall, MN "Independent" newspaper reader offers a suggestion on how to treat those individuals who commit such crimes as vandalism of our cemeteries in the following editorial:

"A slap on the wrist won’t cut it
POSTED: October 12, 2008

To the editor:

The act of vandalism at the cemetery ("Headstones Target of Vandalism in Marshall," Sept. 30) is a prime example of the lack of respect some have for those who came before us. Many believe that those who are responsible should simply be put into jail, that punishment alone is enough to prevent future criminal behavior. Unfortunately, punishment alone will not teach those responsible the respect which they so obviously lack.

To prevent those responsible from repeating this offensive and disrespectful act, and to attempt to prevent them from committing future criminal acts, the community must be involved in whatever sentence the court metes out.

This writer would suggest having the perpetrators assist in the clean-up of the cemetery and the repair of the headstones. The offenders might also learn something from doing genealogical research on those who are buried in the cemetery, primarily those whose headstones were vandalized. As the article mentioned the majority of the headstones damaged were from the late 1800s, and those who are buried there may no longer have family in the area. A simple apology letter seems to be the norm for acts of vandalism, and a letter sent out of town isn't much for someone to write, but if that letter contained the history of their ancestor, researched by the person who showed such disrespect, then maybe it wouldn't be quite so simple. Maybe it would actually mean something, both to the recipient and to the writer.

Samantha Barowsky"


What a grand idea!!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Okay, this is telling you an approximation of my age, but as a kid, I thought Bowzer was a hunk! [Okay, so I wasn't a little kid, and I actually was old enough to know what a hunk was!]. That rich deep voice sent shivers down my spine!

So I was thrilled to read Bowzer is still out there doing his Rock 'N Roll Magic!!!

Thank Dick for another great article!


October 06, 2008
Bowzer and the RootsMagic Genealogy Cruise

If you click on the thumbnail image to the right, you'll see a photograph of Jon Bauman, better known as "Bowzer." Bowzer was the bass singer in the ‘70’s band Sha Na Na, which played at Woodstock and later starred in the Sha Na Na television show, the #1 syndicated television show of the time.

As you can see from the picture, Bowzer recently had an encounter with a group of genealogists on the RootsMagic cruise.

Bauman currently tours extensively with his group, Bowzer and the Stingrays, and was an entertainer on board the cruise ship, Vision of the Seas. He and his band played one evening in the ship's theater to a crowd of enthusiastic rockers. I had a chance to sit in the front row and must say that I enjoyed the show. A lot of the folks on the RootsMagic cruise were also in the audience, and I think they all enjoyed it, too.

A day or two later, I managed to snap a picture of Bowzer, just after RootsMagic President Bruce Buzbee handed the musician a book bag with the RootsMagic logo. Perhaps we can now get Bowzer interested in looking up his family tree!

I learned a few facts about Bowzer. For one thing, he is an accomplished classical pianist. He amazed the audience during his cruise ship show by playing several classical pieces. As a child prodigy, he was admitted to The Juilliard School at age 12 and is a graduate magna cum laude of Columbia University. He even hosted the Hollywood Squares television show for a while in the early 1980s. He also had a role in the movie Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. In addition, he does voiceovers on several animated children's movies, including "Animaniacs" and "The Jetsons." That's not the usual image of a rock musician!

You can read more about Bowzer at
You can read more about the RootsMagic cruise at

Who Would Be King?

Leave it to Dick E. to once again shed a little light! This wonderful story was in yesterdays EOGN. Enjoy!!!


October 08, 2008
Who Would be King of America?

The following announcement was written by The Generations Network, parent company of

PROVO, Utah, Oct 08, 2008 -- If George Washington had been America's king instead of its first president, an 82-year-old retired regional manager from San Antonio, Texas would be King of America today. As red and blue battleground states emerge in the upcoming presidential election, Americans may be interested to know that Senator Barack Obama has deep roots in Ohio or that Senator John McCain has family members from North Carolina on both sides of his family tree. And research into Governor Sarah Palin's family history revealed she is the 10th cousin to Lady Diana Spencer, Britain's beloved Princess Di, as well as a distant cousin to Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the country's most popular presidents.

As the country prepares to elect the 44th U.S. president, genealogy experts at, the world's largest online family history resource, researched answers to some interesting questions surrounding this year's landmark presidential election. From the lineage of the first president, to the family roots of today's presidential and vice presidential candidates, the findings may evoke an interesting debate.

Many Americans are fascinated by the British royal family -- but what if America had its own Royal family? The experts at asked, "Who would be sitting on America's throne today if George Washington had become the king instead of the first U.S. president?" After countless hours of research to trace Washington's family lineage, the following facts emerged to determine which of his descendents would likely be King of America today had the U.S. become a monarchy rather than a democracy in 1789:

-- King George? - According to sources, Washington's leadership during and after the Revolutionary War was held in such high esteem, there were those who suggested he become America's first king.

-- Wading Through the Washingtons - George Washington had no children, so researching the descendants through all of his half- and full-siblings meant approximately 8,000 people could factor into the succession equation, with less than 200 of them bearing the Washington surname.

-- Would-be Royal - Since George Washington had an older half brother and a younger full brother, ultimately there were four possible succession paths. Two of the four paths, with male-only heirs, converge into one heir -- Paul Emery Washington, 82, of San Antonio, Texas -- making him the strongest candidate for king today. Paul Emery Washington also has a son, Bill, who he affectionately calls "Prince William."

-- Valley Forge Connection - Paul Emery Washington was a regional manager at Certain-Teed Corp., a manufacturer and distributor of wholesale building materials for 40 years. The company was headquartered in Valley Forge, Pa., where coincidentally General Washington and his army camped during the difficult winter of 1778-79.

In every presidential election, certain U.S. states emerge as critical battleground states key to winning the White House. The experts at researched the family history of the presidential and vice presidential candidates to learn which of the often referred to battleground states could claim the candidates as their own, with some surprising discoveries.

-- Senator John McCain - McCain has North Carolina roots on both sides of his family tree, extending to the mid 1700s. He is also connected to the state of Arkansas through his paternal grandmother, Katherine Vaulx, a teacher who was born in Arkansas. Katherine's parents, James Vaulx and Margaret Garside, were long-time residents of Arkansas where James was a minister. Family members in his tree served in both the military and the financial sector: his father and grandfather both had careers in the U.S. Navy and great grandfather John S. McCain is documented in the 1900 U.S. Census as the treasurer of Carroll County, Mississippi.

-- Senator Barack Obama - Obama has deep roots in the state of Ohio that go back to 1850. Obama's heritage can be traced back to Ireland, to the small towns of Moneygall and Shinrone in County Offaly, Ireland. Obama's third great-grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, immigrated to the U.S. at age 19, landing in New York harbor on March 20, 1850 and then settling in Fayette County, Ohio among Irish relatives. In addition, Obama has roots extending into the swing states of Virginia, Indiana and Missouri.

-- Senator Joe Biden - Biden also has a strong Irish heritage; his ancestors arrived in the U.S. within six months of Obama's Irish family. Both Obama's and Biden's Irish relatives were shoemakers by trade. Biden has deep Pennsylvania ties: Patrick and Catherine Blewett, Biden's 2nd great-grandparents, settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, around 1860, where Patrick worked as a surveyor and a civil engineer.

-- Governor Sarah Palin - Palin has roots in several battleground states, including Ohio, Minnesota and Virginia, however, most of her roots are planted in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Palin descends from three consecutive generations of Michael Sheerans, who originate in Ireland; her great-great-grandfather Sheeran ran a firm called Sheeran & Filler Bottling Company, which shipped products across the Northwest. According to published family and local histories -- through a common ancestor, Rev. John Lothrop who arrived in Massachusetts colony in 1634 -- Palin is a distant cousin to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is touted in history as one of the country's most popular presidents. Gov. Palin is also a 10th cousin to Lady Diana Spencer, Britain's beloved Princess Di, through common ancestors John Strong and Abigail Ford.

According to a recent independent survey from, Americans would choose to be a member of the Obama family more than any of four other prominent political families.(1) When asked which family they would like to join most, 21 percent chose the Obamas, followed by 15 percent for the Palins and 15 percent for the Clintons, 14 percent for the McCains and 3 percent for the Biden family. Nearly one-third of Americans surveyed (30 percent), however, said they wouldn't want to become a member of any of these political families.

"Most presidential elections bring up issues about where we've come from and where we're headed as a nation, and this election year is no different," said Megan Smolenyak, Chief Family Historian for "This is an ideal time for our family history experts to play historical what-ifs and conduct research to answer intriguing questions, as well as look into the family trees of our candidates to learn about where they come from and the ties they have in our great country."

To learn more about how to start researching your family history, log on to and sign up for a free two-week trial. It's possible that a famous ancestor or past presidential or vice presidential candidate is in your family tree and waiting to be discovered.

About the Ancestry Global Network
The Ancestry global network of family history Web sites is wholly owned by The Generations Network, Inc. It consists of nine Web sites -- in the U.S., in the UK, in Canada, in Australia, in Germany, in Italy, in France, in Sweden and in China. Ancestry members have access to 7 billion names contained in 26,000 historical record collections. Tree-building and photo upload are free on all Ancestry websites. To date, users have created more than 7 million family trees containing 700 million profiles and 11 million photographs. Nearly 5.8 million unique visitors logged onto in August 2008 (comScore Media Metrix, Worldwide).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Family Tree

While I am not endorsing my political favorite here, I nevertheless find this article on Michelle Robinson Obama's ancestor's absolutely fascinating.

Be sure to watch the slideshow and listen to the interviews after you read the entire article!

You will find it here:
"A Family Tree Rooted in American Soil" written byShailagh Murray for the Washington Post.



Wednesday, October 1, 2008

14 Children in 7 Years

The following comes from Genealogy Bank.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

14 Children in 7 years - Mom says: "These are the dearest little things"
Sunday September 29, 1901 Josephine Ormsby (1871-) gave birth to children number eleven, twelve, thirteen and fourteen - three boys and one girl.

The proud mother Josephine Ormsby said "These are the dearest little things" as she was "propped up in the bed with the three boys in her arms and the little girl lying crosswise at the foot of the bed."

What a terrific family scene - and what a find in GenealogyBank for the Ormsby family history.

Here they are a few years later in a 1910 photograph: Front row, from left - William, Theodore, Edith, John, George & Helen; 2nd row, Mrs. Josephine Ormsby, and Daisy. (Photo courtesy - Library of Congress American Memory Project LC No. #ichicdn n005169)

This article (Pawtucket Times - 2 Oct 1901) not only describes the other children - but gives their dates of birth too.

Nov 1, 1896 - twins, one died: Daisy Ormsby survived

Sep 19, 1897 - twins, both died

Sep 24, 1899 - triplets: Carter Harrison Ormsby died; Helen Gould Ormsby and George Dewey Ormsby - survived.
and lastly:

Sep 29, 1901 - quadruplets: Edith Viola Ormsby, John Studebaker Ormsby, Theodore Roosevelt Ormsby and William Hearst Ormsby.

According to the article the mother was herself "one of a set of triplets"!
That was one busy lady!!!