Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Is he talking about me?

Last week I wrote a (slightly) light-hearted list of things that I wished my ancestors had done and it included the following

Have everyone practise spelling the family name in the same way; all the time.

Then just a few days later, James Tanner had a post called Is Spelling Important? in which he highlighted the damage that can be done by a dogmatic emphasis on spelling names in just one way.

... the real issue for genealogists is whether the way a name is spelled has any significance whatsoever? This becomes an issue because of some researcher's dogmatic ignorance of spelling changes. They insist on establishing relationships based almost entirely on the way the name is spelled. They also change the spelling of names found in source records to conform to their preconceived notions of how the name should be spelled. ... You don't have to be involved with helping people with their research for long before you run into this problem and it is a real problem.

Oh dear, was I guilty of the sorts of irrational behaviour that James had identified as barriers to success in genealogy?

I plead not guilty. I do not automatically accept or reject potential ancestors on the basis of how their names are spelled. I recognise that there have been variations through time. I acknowledge that people whose names are recorded in different forms are actually part of the same family. I accept the right of each person to adopt their own form of the name; whether by accident or design.

I just wish that they did not do it! It's not about them. This is all about me and my comfort.

There is nothing so frustrating as having constructed a search query that absolutely must catch the target person (if they exist) and to have it return empty. And then to realise that the spelling setting in on "exact". Toggle that switch and (as if by magic) 2xgreat grandfather appears with an extra "s" or without the "e".

Before you judge me harshly for complaining about the need to set one switch on a search engine, let me tell you how some major products deal with spelling variants.

On the left is Family Search and on the right is FindMyPast. Each one includes a simple tick box to control the spelling searched. There is a small but significant difference. The effects are exactly opposite. If you tick both boxes, then FS will ignore any spelling other than what is entered while FMP will look for any acceptable variations.

If you work with both these tools open in tabs on your browser (as I tend to do), then you need to remember that the ticks must be opposite to have the same effect. Whatever you do on one site, must be matched by the reverse action on the other.

Ancestry does things in the Family Search way. WeRelate has a drop down list that defaults to the FindMyPast approach. Feel free to make up your own list of other search engines.

Occasionally I am tempted to write a stern letter to someone-in-authority about the need to adopt a consistent user interface for the sake of the clients; or I could just go back to abusing the ancestors for their sloppy habits. I suspect it will have as much effect.

1 comment:

  1. Dealing with 'strict' search methods is made psychologically harder when you are so used to Google's algorithms. Compared to Google's eerily accurate anticipation of your needs most other forms of search seem unnecessarily petty and obstructionist.


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