Saturday, March 21, 2009

Weekend Warriors Michigan's Death Search

The much-publicized rollout of Michigan death records 1897-1920 quickly led to server overload -- now apparently fixed -- but the defective nature of the search engine offered has been much less noted, if at all. (I am a big fan of Seeking and blogged about its Civil War archives back on March 5.)

When I attempt a simple search in quotation marks for "Floyd Glover" I get a very long list of people who have Floyd in their first names with no Glover and Glover in their names with no Floyd. So I move on to advanced search, which looks like a really powerful setup.

In advanced search, you first need to moved "Death Records 1897-1920" from the lower left-hand box to the right-hand box, so as to be searching only this one collection. (As you attempt a search and then move back to this screen, you'll have to move it back again -- don't forget!) Then you can turn your attention to the four interconnected search boxes. On the left-hand side of each box you can choose search mode: all of the words, the exact phrase, any of the words, or none of the words. On the right-hand side of each line you can choose your search term. In addition to 16 generic search terms usable in all the Seeking Michigan collections, you can search for first name of deceased, last name of deceased, city/village/town, county, death year, birth year, age, father's last name, or father's given name.

A simple test will show the problems with this seemingly powerful array of search tools. Say you want to browse the death records of Clinton County, and put "Clinton" in as the search term, and "county" as the search field. Result: a long list of results starting with people with "Clinton" as their first name! The exact same list of results appears for any search mode except of course "none of the words."

Using "1899" as search term with "death year" as search field produces a list of people with 1899 as either birth or death year.

The end result of this impressive array of search engines is that the only people I could find were my Mitzelfeld/Mitzelfeldt relatives by marriage, because their name is so rare.

I trust that the Michigan folks can take this back to their contractor and get the search interface to measure up to its tremendous potential. Right now it's an inferior browsing tool.


Jennifer said...

I hope they do too. I run into the same issues with many collections online. As exciting as thedigitization and release of records is, the data is, in the end, only as useful as the search function which helps you mine it.

Kris Rzepczynski said...

We recognized those problems you detailed right away. The searching snaufus have been fixed, and everything is working as it should.

Searching Clinton County and 1899 will give you a list of 1899 deaths in Clinton County.

Thanks for your interest in the Seeking Michigan site, and I encourage you to check back and try your search again. we'll likely be adding additional records this week.


Kris Rzepczynski
Library of Michigan

Kris Rzepczynski said...

One more thing....

That being said, at this point, there aren't any 1899 Clinton County deaths. Those records should be added soon.

Check here for the most current information on what years and counties have been loaded:

Thanks again for your interest in the Seeking Michigan web site. The Library will likely be adding additional records this week, so stay tuned!