Genealogy Gophers is now two scoops instead of just one!!

Ice cream -- single scoop              Question Mark Icon                    Ice Cream -- double scoop

Much of my free time during my high school years was spent scooping ice cream at my parents’ Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. It seems that I wasn’t exactly a model employee – my folks still tell the story that I ate more ice cream than I served to our customers (probably true). One of the things I noticed on the job was that some customers struggled over the decision of whether to get one scoop of ice cream or two. That was puzzling to me since it always seemed like such an obvious choice – why get one scoop when you have the option to get two?!!

At Genealogy Gophers we can’t give you a double scoop of ice cream, but we’re excited to announce that we’ve just doubled the number of online digitized genealogy books available to you on our Gengophers.com website. You can now come and search through more than 80,000 family histories, regional and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, newsletters, and medieval histories.  That’s an online, digital genealogy library double the size of the 40,000 books that were available at our launch only a few months ago. It’s now two scoops of books to search rather than just one.

And what’s even better than doubling the number of searchable and downloadable books available to you at Gengophers.com? It’s giving you the tools you need for productive searches. Searches employing our unique and best-of-class search technologies that help you quickly and easily find your ancestors’ names, dates, and places. So try searching through the now 80,000 genealogy book library we’ve put up for you at Gengophers.com. As always, your searches and downloadable books are all free. And that’s not something we ever offered at Baskin-Robbins!

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Down last week!

Our search engine went down for a few days last week – while I was on a lake fishing, far from the Internet – and the back-up plan didn’t work :-(.

I’m creating a better back-up plan.

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Still trying to hunt down those pesky long-lost relatives? GenGophers just added more search tools to help you find them.

Man with Telescope for Blog #3, 4.10.15The improvements don’t include better telescopes to look further back in time (or cool hats with big feathers to keep the sun out of your eyes).  But we did recently release some great new and enhanced search features on the GenGophers.com website.  No telescopes or hats in the mix, but the release included some nifty new technical search capabilities. If you’re interested in learning about the specific features that were added or improved, here are the kinds of enhancements that were included:

  1. Fuzzy name matching that allows recognition of common name variants.  This helps solve the not-too-infrequent-issue of poor optical character recognition during the book scanning process.  For example, it would overcome the problem of “Williams” being incorrectly identified as “Villiams” during the OCR process.
  2. Fuzzy name matching can be turned off with a new “exact only” checkbox.
  3. Searches at the city and county level can now be performed, in addition to the current ability to search on states/provinces and countries.
  4. Searching can be performed just on places so you can find all references to a particular place.
  5. Improved accuracy when associating given names and surnames that should be linked together, a powerful search feature unique to Genealogy Gophers.
  6. Searches for particular dates can now be performed, in addition to the current ability to search over date ranges.
  7. An improved ability to associate both the dates and the places that should be connected to a specific person.  This would include, for example, being able to match a person with a place name that appears only in the book title.
  8. Increased options when employing wildcard searches using the “?” and “*” characters.
  9. The ability to now search for relatives from Ireland and Quebec (we have relatives from there and really needed this one).

We hope you find these new tools give you an even clearer look back into time. And with no telescopes required.

— Your friends at Genealogy Gophers

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“So, what’s your secret sauce?!?”

You may have heard the tongue-in-cheek depiction of a statistician:  someone who can sit on a large block of ice with her hair on fire and, when asked how she feels, calmly reply, “you know, on average, I feel pretty good.”

Genealogy Gophers is unique in several ways. One of the most interesting is how it searches its large library of genealogy publications in order to zero in on the people you’re trying to find. The great results our users are getting has led to lots of questions around “what’s your search engine’s secret sauce?” (yes, it has to do with a lot of ice and fire)

In answering that secret sauce question we’ll try not to be too techno-geeky. OK, we’ll make some statistics references and throw in some cool sounding words like “algorithm”, “precision”, and “indexing”. But we’ll use a simple example to illustrate how GenGophers.com’s unique technology works relative to typical book search engines. Even with that, if you’re still squirming with the details, don’t feel guilty about bailing out at any time and waiting for the next blog.  Or, find your nearest freezing/overheated statistician if you need some help.

Here’s our example situation: You’re trying to find more information about your ancestors, William David Smith and Harriett Susan Smith, who were married in Michigan in 1895. With tens of thousands of family and regional history books on the web, you know that some of them can add some interesting new facts to what you already know. But how do you dig through all those books (and all the pages in all those books) to find your Bill and Hattie?!?

Your typical book search engine would have already done a few things to make hunting for them easier for you:

  • It would have searched through every digitized page of every book in its library, including both genealogy and non-genealogy books alike
  • As it did that it created an index of every word it found in every book
  • The indexing process attaches to each found word the name of the book and the page where the word appeared (the word could represent a person’s name or anything else, the search engine doesn’t know or care)
  • That resulting index becomes a handy and fast searchable “word” look-up table for the search engine

To start your search for Bill and Hattie you enter into the search form the name, William Smith (without quotes). The engine will search its index for those two words and return every page from every book having both the word William and the word Smith. It could be that you find your relative William Smith as shown in Example A below. Bingo!

Unfortunately (as you probably already know), it’s more likely that the given name William it finds is not associated with the surname Smith it finds. What’s probably more likely is that Smith appeared, say, at the top of a page associated with a different person’s given name, as in Martin Smith. And the given name William was at the bottom of the page associated with a different person’s surname, say, William Jones. Ugh. That page isn’t showing your William Smith. It’s shown below as Example B:

Examples A and B

The common solution most of us use to solve this problem – the search engine not correctly associating the names William and Smith together as one person – is to use quotes around the name “William Smith” when initiating the search. Forcing the association in that way could again create a “Bingo!” moment as shown in Example A above.

Although the additional precision in a search using the term “William Smith” (in quotes) can help in some situations, it can unfortunately introduce a different set of frustrating quality-of-search problems. That can happen, for example, when your relative William Smith is actually included in a book, but isn’t found by the search engine because:

  • his name is displayed only when linked together with his wife’s, Harriett (shown in Example C)
  • the publication used his full name, William David Smith (Example D)
  • his given name is abbreviated as Wm. (Example E), not unusual in older books and publications

Examples C D and E

In each of these common cases the search engine will miss returning a hit on your relative (even though this is actually him!) because the words it’s indexed don’t match the precise term you supplied in quotes, “William Smith”.  Some search engines, such as Google’s, provide some search feature (wildcards, for example) that may return matches in some of these cases, but not all.

Genealogy Gophers’ search engine uses a different and unique indexing approach when adding new publications to its library. To increase the probability of finding William and Harriett and solve some of these search technology problems, the GenGophers.com process looks something like this:

  1. Like other search engines, GenGophers.com will start by searching through every digitized page of every book in its library, although its library contains only genealogy publications (resulting in search results that are only genealogy related)
  2. Unlike other search engines, GenGophers.com:
    1. begins its indexing process by identifying and indexing only those words likely to be the name of a person, a date, or a geographical place (e.g., William, Harriett, Smith, 1895, Michigan)
    2. then uses statistical algorithms (just think ice and fire) to try and associate the names, dates, and places it’s found, and recognize combinations of them that are likely to represent real people. Using our William Smith search instance:
      1. in Example B it would associate the names “Martin” and “Smith” as a person and “William” and “Jones” as a different person, and recognize that neither person is “William Smith”
      2. in Example C it would recognize that the surname “Smith” is associated with the given name “William” (also with “Harriett”) that precedes it, and predict that this is likely your “William Smith”
      3. in Example D it would recognize that the names “William”, “David”, and “Smith” are associated and make a match with your “William Smith” search
      4. in Example E it would know that “Wm.” is a common abbreviation for “William” and then associate that given name (even as an abbreviation here) with the following surname “Smith”, again matching your “William Smith” search
    3. although not described in these examples, the Genealogy Gophers search engine  uses other statistical and machine learning tools in similar ways to associate dates and places with the person names it finds, and return to users the best possible genealogy-only search results

This is probably enough ice and fire for one blog post. But we’ll mention in closing that the Genealogy Gophers’ search technology also attaches statistical probabilities to each of these name, date, and place associations it makes. It then uses those probabilities to rank order the results it returns on each search you make. We’ll save that exciting story for a future blog! We know the statisticians among you can’t wait.

— Your friends at Genealogy Gophers

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We’re excited to be here!

We’re definitely excited to have launched our new site at GenGophers.com!   If you’ve had a chance to try us out, you know that Genealogy Gophers is both free (really!) and that it produces unique search results different from those on any other genealogy site you’ve seen.  It’s already gotten some remarkable press and a number of positive reviews, including some from eminent genealogy websites and bloggers like these:

Are we getting questions?  Yes, lots.  In the few weeks since the GenGophers website went live we’ve been asked a bunch of questions about it and we’ll try to address a few of them in this first blog.  Please follow us here (or on Twitter and Facebook which are soon to come) and we’ll keep answering the questions you send to us.  We don’t want the secret sauce to be secret. The more you know about GenGophers.com and how it works, the more valuable it will become to you and the more you’ll tell others about it.

Here are three of the most frequent questions we’ve gotten already:

1)  What kinds of genealogy publications are in the GenGophers library?  It currently contains more than 40,000 digitized and out of copyright family histories, regional and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, newsletters, and medieval histories.   Some are relatively well known publications, like city directories from the United States (e.g., The New York City Directory from 1850-1851).  Others are more obscure writings and not sources most of us would be routinely reviewing to find our ancestors, like some 18th and 19th century regional histories (e.g., A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, published in 1855).

2)  Where did you get all these digitized family history publications?  We obtained them from FamilySearch in a partnership we have with them.  They obtained them in conjunction with their partner institutions, including (as listed on the FamilySearch website):

—  Allen County Public Library
—  Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library
—  Brigham Young University Idaho David O. McKay Library
—  Brigham Young University Hawaii Joseph F. Smith Library
—  Church History Library
—  Family History Library
—  Houston Public Library – Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research
—  Mid-Continent Public Library – Midwest Genealogy Center
—  Historical Society of Pennsylvania
—  Onondaga County Public Library

 3)  Do you have plans to add more books to the GenGophers library?  Through our partnership with FamilySearch we expect the GenGophers library to grow from the current 40,000 (plus) to more than 100,000 similar types of publications by the end of 2015.   FamilySearch has an extensive publication collection and digitizing program underway with teams all over the world that will continue to add family history information for you to easily access through GenGophers.com.  In addition to FamilySearch we are also planning on gathering thousands of more genealogy books from Archive.org and other free book sources on the Internet.

Great content.  But what about the search tools?  In addition to questions about the library and the growing amount of family history content it contains, we’ve had a lot of questions about GenGophers’ unique search technology.  In our next blog we’ll spend some time sharing how the search engine works its magic and why it’s so different than any other genealogy search tools available (promise: our explanation won’t get too geeky and techie).

We hope you enjoy the GenGophers website and find it valuable as you do your genealogy work.  Please continue to give us feedback on both what you like and what you’d like to see added/changed in the future.  We plan on popping out brief surveys to our followers pretty regularly, sorry in advance if they’re an intrusion (feel free to ignore them).  But we’re still new, want to make sure we’re adding new features that are focused on the needs you have, and we need your help identifying what they are.

 — Your friends at GenGophers.com

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We’re Under Construction!

You’ve reached the future home of the Genealogy Gophers blog, but we’re still unpacking 🙂

We should be moved in next week!

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