24 April 2013

The Annoyance of Misleading Collection Titles

     It happens often, yet it's a disappointing surprise every time: you see a new data collection show up online at FamilySearch or Ancestry.com and you get excited.  Ancestry has added "Georgia, Deed Indexes, 1927-1979."  This is going to be great!  Click, type in a surname, click... No results.  Ok, let me try some other names.  No results.  What?  I scroll down some to the "About" section and I see it:

"This is a collection of deed indexes from Troup County, Georgia, for the years 1927-1979"

     WHAT?  Seriously?  There are 159 counties in Georgia and this collection contains deeds from only one of them, yet it's titled for the entire state.   It only represents 0.62% of the state; talk about a misleading title.

     This happens a lot, though not usually to this extreme.  Take another Georgia collection for example: "Georgia Marriages, 1699-1944."  It has records for 81 of Georgia's 159 counties, only 50% of the counties in the state are in the collection.  Also, the years for many of the counties are much more limited than the dates given in the title.  Take a look at the screenshot to the right.  Do you think the title is really accurate?

     If a researcher isn't looking at the details of the collection, they might think the record they're looking for doesn't exist.  Ancestry.com sticks these details at the bottom of the page, under the search box.  FamilySearch is both better and worse. They put a notice at the top, but they don't give as detailed a list of the contents.

     I've got a pretty simple solution for Ancestry, FamilySearch and other genealogy companies: add "Select" to the title.  In situations such as these, in which there are entire counties missing, the title should reflect this.  This would be a signal to researchers to check the fine print.  This might result in a large amount of the collections having "Select" in the title, but it would be much less misleading.

    Another great feature would be a note to indicate whether or not more records are pending, like they did with the 1940 census.  I know it would be more work, but if the Georgia Deeds collection is eventually intended to represent all 159 counties, a list of "coming soon" counties could be added.  Or they could create an icon (an hour-glass, under construction) to indicate the collection is growing.

     For me, it's about being honest in naming collections.  Every time this happens, I'm disappointed.  I suppose I should know better, and in the end I really do, but that doesn't stop me from being frustrated by misleading collection titles.

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