Wednesday 5 January 2011

New FamilySearch, a view from the British Isles Part One

I don’t wish to be an old stick-in-the-mud, but when something new comes along, it isn’t always an improvement. Having said that, there are lots of good features in new FamilySearch, but sadly, there are quite a few flaws too. The optimist in me thinks that it should be possible to tweak and amend it so that more of the good features of old FamilySearch are re-introduced, or even improved on. We shall see.

There have been some very useful comments and observations from other bloggers; if you don’t already subscribe, I’d strongly recommend The Ancestry Insider as one of the best on this subject. I agree with much that has already been said, but I want to add some observations of my own from a British Isles perspective.

You will notice that I said British Isles, and not just ‘British’, and this is deliberate. Many people use the terms ‘British’ and ‘English’ interchangeably, but they are not the same, and it’s important to know the difference. It’s not just a question of courtesy to the Scots (most of me), the Irish (the rest of me), the Welsh, Manx and the Channel Islanders; if you are looking for records of your ancestors, it saves time if you look in the right country, it really does.

One of the most useful features of old FamilySearch is the way you can filter searches by place, and much of this has carried over to the new site BUT for this corner of the world it has become much worse.

Old FamilySearch

You need to select the IGI search page for this (you can only filter down to Country level from the All Resources page)

Region: British Isles
Country: England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man or Channel Islands, or you can leave it at 'All countries'
County: you can select a county, or 'All counties' or 'county unknown', except for the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are very small to start with

New FamilySearch

Under Historical Records, 'Browse by location'

Region: Europe
Country: Channel Islands, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland, United Kingdom, Wales (There is no collective British Isles category)
County: 'No further place filters found'

There are a number of obvious problems with this. First of all, there is no option called 'England', and no way to search all of the British Isles records at once, you have to search each one separately. If you look closely, the databases in 'United Kingdom' are mostly from England, but they include 'Wales Births and Baptisms.1541-1907', 'Wales Deaths and Burials 1586-1885' and 'Wales Marriages 1541-1900'. Wales has its own country category, but this only contains 'Wales Probate Abstracts 1771-1780'. If you then explore the actual databases listed within the 'United Kingdom' category, there are three (apart from the Welsh ones I have just described) that are not excplicitly English, these are the 'Great Britain' categories for Births and Baptisms, Marriages, and for Deaths and Burials. These, as you might expect, contain mostly events in England, but there are also a great many events which took place abroad or at sea - go to 'Great Britain Births and Baptisms 1571-1977', enter 'Florence' in the Place box and you will see what I mean. I have also found a number of Irish baptisms in the same category. Incidentally, 'Great Britain' is not the same as either 'England' or 'United Kingdom', and definitely does not include Ireland.

I will return to this subject again, but this is enough for now. I am still trying out the new site and there are features that I haven't explored properly yet. I have used the Feedback button to report my comments, and I do have some positive things to say about new FamilySearch too, but my first concern is with these place filters. FamilySearch as an organisation has been kind enough to sponsor me to speak at this year's NGS Conference in Charleston South Carolina in May; one of the sessions they have asked me to deliver is a favourite of mine called 'What is Britain?' It would be nice to think that some of the software engineers might pay attention to what I have to say.


  1. Thank you so much for drawing attention to this important issue. As a big user of the IGI (specifically) to find English ancestors, especialy siblings, using the batch number system, I find the new familysearch site awful to use.

    When I try and use the new site, I am flooded with American records, which I never was before, in the old system. Of course I may be using it incorrectly as I'm still using the old system, but am worried that it will be discontinued at some point.

  2. Thank you Audrey for pointing this out. I spend most of my research time working in English and Scottish records and have found the new Family Search frustrating to say the least.

  3. My interest in Genealogy began because of Family Search and, having tried to use the recently revamped site, I have virtually abandoned FS for the reasons you have described...

  4. Thanks for your comments. I was a little confused at first because we call the name database introduced only to Church members "New FamilySearch" I have been trying to refer to the updated version of as the updated FamilySearch. Your comments are very perceptive and appropriate.

  5. The Scottish 1881 census returns are now on the site - they weren't included in the "1881 British census" returns on the last version, which only had English and Welsh records online, so a great addition.

    That's the good news - the bad news is that you have to go looking for them in the "England and Wales Census 1881" collection! Scotland is absolutely in England and Wales - in exactly the same way that Utah is in both California or Texas.

    Some kind of map might be in order...?! lol