11 September 2009

A New Way to Search

I've been working on my elusive Ira Sargent lately for a "Casefile Clues" column and in the course of looking at census records, something came to me. The programming would be difficult, but it might really help those of us who are stuck.

We all know that in some families names are repeated and used, over and over. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a search interface that worked like that?

Say for example I have a family with the following structure in 1850?

Father Asa
Mother Mary
Children: Emma, Ira, Lucretia, Edwin, Martha, Permelia. Places of birth are in Illinois, New York, and Canada.

Lucretia marries--I don't know his last name. But I think that she might have used the names of some of her siblings for names of her children. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a way to enter as search terms Lucretia's place of birth and the names of her children and search for households with a Lucretia above a certain age and with say maybe half of the children having the name Emma, Ira, Edwin, Martha, or Permelia? It would not be proof that I had the right family, but it would at least give me some families to work on. This is one of the difficulties in locating women when their married name is unknown.

Does this make sense (is anyone even listening)? I might not have formulated my thought as precisely as I wanted.


Blogger Lee said...

It makes perfect sense, and I think Ancestry.com is moving closer with each update to a similar search scenario.

Already, for some of the censuses, you can put in the name of the person (and you can choose to use just a given name) and then put the name of the parent (mother or father) lower on the form. As for which censuses have this feature, I think depends on which ones have been indexed to connect the whole family (or page).

2:20 PM  
Blogger Michael John Neill said...

There is some movement, but sometimes I wish they would hasten the process. Ancestry has allowed searches on parents for some time--it just wasn't always easy to get to. Searches without last names have been possible for some time. I can remember using that approach for an upstate New York family at least five years ago.

What I was hoping someone would do is allow me to enter in the names of parents and all the children and search a census, say 30 years later that has 50% or some set level of "matches," perhaps combine with the right places of birth for the parents.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

I second your wish. I recognize Ancestry.com is moving slooowly on these features, and I merely use the example to show that it is possible. If only someone somewhere would take a stick after *all* of the companies to get there faster. I imagine there are a lot of us who could use such technology to break down walls.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Ancestry allows parent searches for 1880 census, for example. And you can use just first names - or even just birth places. Not perfect, but I've had some success with this approach. I even found one person when I didn't know her name at all, just where she and her parents were born. Granted it was an unusual combination of birth places. I always use "Old Search" of course. Family Search Pilot site has also just modified its search screen to allow a bit more flexibilty. If you focus on just one database/census year, you can accomplish something like what you want. I agree that what you are asking for would be lovely.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Greta Koehl said...

Wow - this is so relevant to what I'm currently doing in my research on my brick wall. First, it would help me match up "candidate families" in two different censuses. And I did find a family that looks like a good candidate, and a sister in that family has the same not-so-common first name as my brick wall's daughter, so this type of search and correlation would be wonderful to have.

8:02 PM  
Blogger bjs said...

I like the idea a lot. Hope that Ancestry is moving in that direction. Right now I find myself using the 'exact' search on first names of strangely named siblings (for example, Darling) and checking each family in the county who had a child named Darling. It netted me some possibilities. But I think it would be much better to be able to put in several family members's names and see if they turn up in other households.

As I still remember scrolling through counties in Texas looking for Johnsons, and trying to figure out if they are the same ones, I'm feeling a little greedy wanting more than simply an index that sometimes works!


8:56 PM  
Blogger JJ said...

I have often wanted to use the names of siblings in one census year to find family members in the next census year. This happens when I can't find the family in the next census using parents OR the surname has been butchered by the enumerator or indexer or the children are being raised by others. As it is now, I attempt to search using the children's names but unless one of them is more or less uncommon, it is still difficult to find the family. I would love to be able to search by siblings using their relationship to one another and their ages. For example:

1870 census
James Smith, age 30 (father)
Mary Smith, age 28 (mother)
Mary Smith, age 5 (daughter)
Billy Smith, age 2 (son)

Between the 1870 & 1880 census, James and Mary apparently disappear off the face of the earth.

I now want to search for Mary, age 15, with a brother Billy, age 12. In case they are living with kin who do not share their surname of Smith, it would be nice to search using only the search criteria of their given names and ages in case the census recorded them with the kin's surname. Perhaps the children were adopted. There are many "for instances" why it would be handy to search by sibling relationships -- as well as the other relationships stated in previous comments.

8:15 PM  

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