Monday, July 21, 2014

False Positives - Who clogs up your search results?

I suspect every researcher has them. The people who turn up again and again in your search results, even though they're definitely not your guy.

Search the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for Mulvaneys in the 19th century, and you'll find occasional references to the family of James and Bridget Mulvaney, my ancestors. But you'll find dozens of references to Deputy Sheriff Mulvaney, whose job kept him in the papers all the time. The search term gymnastics you have to do to exclude the good deputy sheriff would probably eliminate a number of more promising results at the same time.

I have eBay alerts set up for a number of the names of my families. Some almost never show up, and when they do, I get excited by the prospect of a real find. (Nothing yet!) But others pop into my inbox with amazing - and utterly unhelpful - regularity.

My "Lanzillotto" search is routinely confounded by the book L is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir by Annie Lanzillotto. Interestingly, this one actually is about my family, written by a cousin of my mother's. But - I already have a copy!

Some of the more common names in my family need geographic qualifiers in their search terms, so I have an alert set up for "Quinn Brooklyn." And I get alerts more days than not. 99% of them are baseball cards for Jack Quinn, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s. People list Jack Quinn baseball cards for sale just about every day. The other 1% were Christine Quinn campaign pins from the 2013 NYC mayoral campaign. (I'm not related to either of them, as far as I know.)

I have an "O'Hara Brooklyn" alert set up, too. All of the results are vintage magazines featuring articles about John O'Hara, the author, not John O'Hara, my great-grandfather.

All of these e-mails get deleted. It takes all of my willpower not to delete them without reading them, but what if one day it's a Quinn family Bible, not a Jack Quinn baseball card? And so I read a daily e-mail about Jack Quinn baseball cards that does nothing to help my research.

Who clogs up your search results? How do you craft your searches so that these false positives don't show up over and over again?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to make a purchase from Amazon after clicking one of these links, I will receive a small portion of your purchase price as a commission - and the price you pay doesn't change! I personally make a point of starting my Amazon shopping through the affiliate links of bloggers and friends whenever possible, so that large corporations are not the only beneficiaries of my purchases, and encourage others to do the same, regardless of whether they use my affiliate links or another blogger's.

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