… but I figured I’d put my two cents in about Ancestry’s decision to do away with Old Search.

So Ancestry has sent out an email (I didn’t get one) to Old Search users advising them that Old Search will be discontinued at the end of the year.  Less than two hours after the announcement, our (usually) quiet, well-mannered genealogy community resembled Filene’s Basement on sale day.

In this now infamous email, Ancestry said that only 2% of their subscribers used Old Search.  If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times … “I don’t believe it, where’d they get those numbers?” “Everyone I know uses Old Search, so it MUST be higher than that.”  You get the idea.  Here’s the thing: at last count, Ancestry had 2 million subscribers.  2% of that amount is only 40,000.  I don’t find this figure all that hard to believe.  Hmm … 40,000 users versus 1.96 million users.  Can’t imagine what’s driving this business model.

I have used New Search since day one and have had few, if any, real problems with the “hundreds of thousands” of irrelevant results that others are claiming to have.  I’m not sure whether it’s because they are researching common surnames, but I have never gotten that many irrelevant results when I use the search engine properly.

I’m not saying there aren’t issues with Ancestry’s approach to research as a whole – but New Search gives us more options to narrow our search and widen it as we see fit when you use it as intended.

And another thing … (here’s where I get opinionated.  You’ve been warned.)

Just because I use New Search doesn’t mean I am inexperienced.

I wish I had a nickel for every time a user of Old Search inferred that the users of New Search were inexperienced or beginners, or were inferior to Old Search users for one reason or another.  Then I could retire and do nothing but research for the rest of my life.

I have been researching on and off since the late 1980s.  I’m no expert, but I’m not inexperienced either.  I am currently enrolled in the NGS Home Study Course and working my way toward certification.  If my past use of Ancestry’s New Search is going to somehow inhibit my ability to become certified, then I think that’s something I should know.  Can anyone direct me to the BCG rule that references that?  Didn’t think so.

Take a few minutes to LEARN how to use New Search.

One comment (authors’ names are withheld for obvious reasons) said, “For my gg grandmother, I got 27 results in the old search.  I got 385,198 in the new one after filtering the search. One of the filters I used was her spouse’s name. The 385,198 results I got were for a woman with a husband named John but not the surname I gave for him.”

Aside from the fact that none of the commenters gave specific details about their searches, one thing I can tell you about this search is that they did not use the filters properly.  For each first name AND surname, there are options to limit your search to EXACT matches, soundex matches, phonetic matches, or similar spelling/meaning matches, or some combination of these.


There are also filters for locations – exact location only, county, surrounding counties, state, surrounding states, etc.  Using these filters has provided results that I wasn’t expecting, leading me to locate more than one ancestor I thought had been abducted by aliens.

Here’s another:

“I want to be able to search for a name in a state and in one more click go to a list of the places where it appears and be able to immediately choose the database I want. Three clicks!”  Wow … lazy much?  You actually CAN do this.  Unfortunately, it takes FOUR clicks.  So, sorry.  When you enter a given name, surname, and location, your search results can be viewed by record or by category – just click on the tabs at the top right of the results window.


“If I use just my surname XXXX, exact, USA, New York in the old search I get 82 results in the census and 31 in B,M, & D.  In the new search, using the same criteria, I get a total of 2,831 results.”

I performed this search (surname withheld) in New Search and only got 263 results.  Here’s a trick that I think most people haven’t noticed.  Waaaaay down at the bottom of the search box, there are little boxes you can check to tell Ancestry what TYPE of records you want to see.  You want to only see online trees?  Check that box.  Don’t want anything but Historical Records?  Uncheck everything else.  Pretty simple.  Also reduces the number of hits you get per search.


So … bottom line it for me, Jenny.

Okay.  Here’s what we KNOW:

  1. Old Search is going away.
  2. New Search is going to see some changes.

Other than these two things, everything else is still up in the air.  So … I’m trying to figure out why everyone is complaining about something that (a) isn’t happening for another 6 months and (b) may or may not be better than what we have now.  My former therapist used to call that “borrowing trouble.”

Whichever search they decide to put out there for us, it’s still better and cheaper than traveling to the repositories and looking for the documents in person.

There are plenty of blog posts, videos, and other resources on how to use New Search efficiently.  Here is a good one from Michael Hait, CG, from a year ago.  Ancestry also has instructional videos and articles on how to use New Search.  It really doesn’t take very long to figure out how to use New Search, and when you take into consideration that it’s more powerful than Old Search and gives you more filtering options, it will end up saving you time.

New Search is what you make it.  If you don’t want it to work for you, then it won’t.  And there’s nothing anyone can do or say that will change your mind.  I guess you just saved $300 a year.


Do we share ancestors? Email me: lostancestors AT gmail DOT com

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I didn’t want to do it … — 10 Comments

  1. A lot of people don’t like change. I *hate* change, or at least the idea of it. For me, when New Search debuted, it was terrible. What they have today is, to me, a completely different experience than it was on day one. But because of the bad experience, I put off using New Search. And I think that that’s where the “experienced users use Old Search” comes from: older users sticking with Old and new users never having seen it. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of experienced researchers willing to take the plunge (you’re so brave!)

    Knowing that Old search is leaving, I’ve gone ahead and switched to New Search. At this point, I’ve found that it works and does give me the results I’m looking for… mostly. My main issue with New Search is that it’s much more complicated. There are a ton more filters and options that trip me up. Part of that will be a learning curve, but I still think that part of it is unnecessary complications. I still honestly prefer Old Search.

    As for people’s reactions, it’s that fear of change and a bad first experience, as well as gut reaction. The first thing I saw was on Facebook, saying that New Search was leaving. I was pretty upset. Then I read the email they sent, and I felt a bit better about the whole thing. Like you said, the 2% seems reasonable to me when you thing about the number of subscribers. And the tone of the email seemed to be… I don’t know – like they were trying to break it to us easy and reassure everyone that it wasn’t the end of the world. And seriously, we’ve known this was coming for a long time. We’ll just deal with it, or stop using Ancestry

    • Thanks for commenting, Valerie. New Search can be confusing at first, but like anything new, it takes a little while to get comfortable with it and make it work FOR YOU. Everyone’s experiences will be different, and I get that. I don’t have any Smiths or Joneses in my tree, so maybe that helps. In any case, I have a feeling it’s not going to be as bad as everyone thinks it will. Especially now that they appear to have put feelers out to the Old Search users for more detailed input: http://ancestry.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_8ubNXU8IiQcxqVD

      • I think you’re right that it won’t be as bad as everyone thinks. When I switched over to New Search yesterday, I started off all “grumble, grumble… hafta use this thing…” but pretty quickly switched to, “heh, this isn’t what I remember.” Some searches turn out well, while other’s I’m still tweaking. I decided then that I was going to be optimistic about the whole thing. I do enjoy complaining, but not when it’s undeserved or pointless. It’s better to give feedback and see what they come up with.

  2. I agree strongly with everything you have written here.

    I also started using “New Search” as soon as it debuted. Frankly, the way that the original announcement read, I assumed that “Old Search” would be disappearing (then) soon. Little did I know that it would be sticking around for a few more years.

    It wouldn’t have changed much. Once I (very quickly) got past the learning curve on how to use it, I discovered it was a much more powerful search engine. I have tried–and failed–on numerous occasions over the past several years to convince others of this fact.

    I am not an inexperienced researcher, as my BCG certification attests. To suggest that I am so because I am a satisfied user of “New Search” is crossing the line, in my opinion.

    • Thanks Michael! I think the experienced/inexperienced issue alone was the impetus for writing this post. I promise it didn’t start out as civil as it is now. There was a flurry of editing going on. 🙂

  3. I for one am thrilled that researchers are successful with the New search, even tho as of this morning I am still a fan, user and supporter of the Old Search. As I said on my post, I am thrilled when others are successful in their searches, PERIOD! Up till now, the New search was not intuitive for me. We are now into what, 20 30 years of serious personal computer use, searches and web sites should be easy to work with. Not obtuse. Just like apps on the mobile devices, if it is stinking hard to figure out how to get results, I am gonna ditch the app. I don’t have much excess time to spend trying to figure out what the designers are trying to do. Go find another app that the designers think the way I do. Use what works for you, use what works for me. Soon I hope to have the time and the energy when I am awake to re-read your post and get up the nerve to try the New search with your hints. Right now, finding that time when I am not exhausted just is not happening.

    Great post Jenny, thanks for writing it.

    • Carol – I’m glad you commented! I know it’s frustrating to have to learn something new when what you’ve been using wasn’t “broken” … and I get that you like Old Search. Hopefully with the changes Ancestry is hinting about, we will see some integration of the features everyone likes about Old Search AND New Search brought together in perfect harmony … why do I feel like I need a Coke all of a sudden? Rest up and when you start playing with New Search, do it with an open mind (and coffee. Don’t ever forget coffee).

  4. Jenny ~ first of all, thanks for this post. I was reading all the hub bub about “old search” going away and I was confused. As far as I knew, there was no “old search” or “new search”. There was just “search” and “advanced search”, which I rarely use. And thanks for pointing out some things about the “new search”. I didn’t realize that there was the little “restrict to” options at the bottom. I also forget about the category tab up at the top, but that is really unnecessary because the category results are listed at the left.

    I do not have a subscription to Ancestry. I use Ancestry Library edition with my library card. This “old search” everyone has been talking about is not even an option through the library edition. So I went over to the Ancestry site to check it out for myself and low and behold there it was in the upper right corner after clicking on advanced search. Oh, I remeber that. That’s what it looked like before they changed it.

    When they first went to “old search” (how long ago was that even?), like anyone else I grumbled at first, but then just went with it.

    I prefer the “new search” and here’s one of the reasons why. While I don’t have access to the actual records on the full site, I can still run a search. I did a little experiment using the exact same search criteria on both sites, “new search” on library edition and “old search” on full site.

    I put in the name George Piggot using the default settings on the “new search” without checking the “exact only” box, and +2 on the birth date. I did the same exact thing on the “old search”.

    The “old search” brought back the surname Post, which only comes up when you click “soundex matches” on the “new search”. I don’t think there is any way that someone is going to transcribe Piggot, or any of it’s (too) many variant spellings, as Post. That soundex stuff just gets in my way.

    I like the fact, as you pointed out, that “new search gives you those filters. I rarely use exact search because that increases the chance that I may miss something that someone has transcribed wrong, or the actual documents have wrong info like I encountered with George W Piggot.

    What I like about “new search” is when you click on one of the results, to the right it shows other records that may relate to that person. Does the old search show this? I can’t tell because I am not a subscriber. I am a registered with them because I have a tree there. I thought I would try the same search after I logged in. Guess what? The “old search” option disappeared.

    Well, there is my two cents.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Leslie Ann! I think that once folks get used to New Search, they will start to see how powerful it is – and who knows? Maybe some of the features people liked about Old Search will survive when New Search is revamped (you know it will be). Then we will have the best of both worlds and all the ‘hub bub” will have been for nothing. 🙂

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