Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Watercooler Wednesday #30 - Collection Details View

Yesterday we released the new collection details view. Each collection now has its own page that allows you to take a peek into how we indexed the collection.


Above is a screen shot from the collection page for the United States Marriage, 1733-1990 index from FamilySearch. The orange area represents it's coverage between 1803 and 1812. If you search for marriages in Florida in 1805, this collection will not show up.

These new collection pages are beautiful, fun, and useful. We have already identified and fixed several bugs in our indexing process now that we can easily visualize our data. It's also useful for researchers to understand the coverage of particular collections. For example, when searching for records in Eastern New Mexico, it's easy to see why collections from Texas appear in the results.


These new collection detail pages are available from the search results. Just click the "Details" button to open that collection's detail page in a new tab.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Watercooler Wednesday #29 - FAR Chrome Extension and Data Updates

Two things of note for this week.

The first is that we have updated the Find-A-Record Chrome Extension to work with the new search page. We also setup a redirect on the old search page to send you to the new search page. Now that traffic is no longer hitting the old search page and stressing our database, we can continue importing more data and work on creating the new collection details view.

The second is that we figured out why some of the collections available from FamilySearch were being labeled with incorrect record types. First some background. FamilySearch tags their online collections with information about what record types they contain, which is great news for us. They label things as containing, birth, marriage, death, census, and several other tags. But they also label things as "vital" records. Based on what we were seeing initially, it seemed as though collections were being labeled as "vital" if they contained birth, marriage, and death records. Well, it turns out that's not the case. Take the collection Minnesota, Marriages, 1849-1950. This is labeled as vital and not marriage. Why? We have no clue. Thankfully these inconsistencies seems to be limited to the vital tag. To fix this, we ignore the vital label and generate the list of record types ourselves by parsing the title, as we do with all other data sources. That properly gives us a tag of marriage for Minnesota, Marriages, 1849-1950. Much better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Watercooler Wednesday #28 - A Better Marketing Message

Along with our redesign, we have been working on our branding and messaging. Inspired by Simon Sinek, we are focusing on the "why" of what we do. Here are a few of the brainstorming ideas we came up with:
  • Genealogy should be easier
  • The industry lacks innovation
  • Genealogy shouldn't be an old mans sport
  • We want to show slow-moving incumbents what can be done
  • We believe that there is a solution to the industry's problems
  • (Many others that I won't list here)
So after coming up with that list, we started narrowing it down and refining our ideas. Here are a few of the realizations we came to:
  • People want to connect to other people. In genealogy, those people are our ancestors.
  • We believe that everyone should be able to connect to their ancestors.
  • We help people connect to their ancestors by making genealogy easier, more approachable, and doable.
  • We built Find-A-Record to help you know where to look for your ancestor's records.
  • The number of people interested in connecting with their ancestors (for many reasons) is much larger than those who enjoy the detective and puzzle-like challenge of genealogy research.
We iterated on this smaller list and settled on a simple 3-part message.
  1. We believe that you want to connect to your ancestors, and that connecting to them is important.
  2. To connect to your ancestors, you need to know who they are, what happened to them, the story of their lives, etc.
  3. Find-A-Record shows you where to look to find that information.
Finally we turned it into marketing content for our home page.





Thursday, March 6, 2014

Watercooler Wednesday #27 - Working on a New Design

We've decided to create a new search experience on Find-A-Record. Let's look at the current search page.


There are a few things about this that can be improved.
  1. The collection results are the most import piece of information, but they're relegated to a portion of the left side of the screen. The map, which is primarily used for searching, takes up most of the screen.
  2. The expanse of blue lines covering the US makes little sense to anybody but us. What it's showing is that the collection we hovered over was correctly geocoded to historical boundaries of the US (in this case 1767-1950).
  3. The search can be slow when searching on large complicated polygons like the US.
  4. The autocomplete for place search doesn't function very well.
Here's a peek at the redesign we're working on.


  1. The map will only be used for choosing and displaying the search area.
  2. We have more real estate for displaying information about collections, which is what really matters. We will tell you what record types are included in the collection and whether it's free or behind a paywall and whether it's online or offline.
  3. The "Search" button will take you to an external web page that allows you to search the collection or gives you instructions on how to access it.
  4. The "Details" button will bring up a modal dialog that has more details about the collection, such as a description. It will also allow you to explore all of the different boundaries which the collection was geocoded to. We are making the boundaries of a collection a little more difficult to access because most users don't care and because it significantly improves performance.
  5. We will no longer allow you to search on the borders of a country, state, or county. All searches will be radius searches. If you want to search an entire country you will have to expand the size of the circle to envelope it. This isn't perfect because it's impossible to cover all of Russia without getting China and other nearby countries, but Find-A-Record is most useful when optimized for local searches.
We're also in the early stages of developing a mobile app.