Have you ever wondered why particular records show up on your search results when the places don’t match? There are a number of reasons for this. Frequently, the reason is that place-names can be written many different ways.
When you search for a place, the search needs to understand what you entered, match it to the available records, and bring back the hits. Seems straightforward, right?
However, a place-name can be written many different ways. You may enter the name one way for your search. But the record may list that same place differently. Consider these other challenges as they relate to searching for places:
- The name may have changed. Your search might use the modern name, but the record uses the original name.
- You may have spelled out the entire name, but the record uses an abbreviation.
- A town may have been in different counties, states, or countries during its history.
- You may enter the name in English, and the record uses the native language.
- You might enter an ambiguous place-name. If you enter “Paris,” you probably mean the capital of France. But there are at least 170 other places with Paris in the name.
- Spellings and abbreviations change over time.
To prevent you from having to do one search for each way a place might be listed, we compare the place-name that you enter to a database of place-names. This database lists many of the variations by which a place is known and provides one standard name that we search for. We also use this database to standardize the place-names in the index to our online records.
In spite the place standards, you may see unexpected search results for these reasons:
- The place you enter may not match anything in the place standards. Or it may match more than one.
- The place listed on an indexed record may not match anything in our place standards. Or it may match more than one.
- The place you enter might be on a field that isn’t displayed in your search results. For example, you may have entered a birthplace of Missouri. Your search results may contain Illinois marriage records. If you explore that record a bit, you will probably find that the record lists Missouri as the birthplace of the bride or groom.
Instead of hiding the ambiguous but potentially useful search results, we display them. You can then use the new filters to find the specific records you want. (The filters are located along the left side of your search results.)
We realize that this ambiguity can complicate your search. Therefore, we are constantly working to make this experience better. Specifically, we are:
- Improving the place standards so that fewer places can be considered ambiguous.
- Clarifying ambiguous places that appear on the indexed records.
If you are curious about the place standards that we use, go to our Standard Finder project on FamilySearch Labs (https://labs.familysearch.org). You can then send feedback to improve the standards, which will help make our search experience more accurate.