Irish Roots

October 4th, 2010

John Grenham

About a decade ago, Microsoft decided to improve the help system in their Office software suite. They introduced Clippit, the Office Assistant, an animated paper-clip with Groucho Marx eyebrows whose job was to pop up and offer suggestions whenever a user attempted to do something that looked familiar. So if you tried to start a letter, Clippit would suddenly appear on-screen and say “It looks like you’re writing a letter. Would you like help?” Not surprisingly, the reaction of most users was homicidal fury, and eventually Microsoft very sensibly retreated. The Assistant was first turned off by default and then dropped.

Far too many creators of online record sites have a similar attitude to their users. In trying to simplify research, they get between the researcher and the records and end up frustrating the former and obscuring the latter. The Mormons are prime offenders. For all the wonderful range of records they make available, their online search sites (www.familysearch.org and pilot.familysearch.org) are continually trying to make research simpler and in the process often make it harder to find information. One example: the original civil registration indexes so generously transcribed and made available on pilot.familysearch.org specify the registration district in which a birth, death or marriage occurred. This can be very useful in trying to winnow out events in a family with a common name, Byrne in Wicklow, Ryan in Tipperary, Harrington in West Cork. But the search interface allows you to choose only a county, even though the registration districts are all there in the transcriptions. Presumably counties are familiar but registration districts are complicated and strange.

This is even more frustrating when you see how easy it can be to provide users with both a simple, non-threatening search interface and a more advanced and precise one. As in so much else, the model is the National Archives census search site, www.census.nationalarchives.ie.


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.

Current column

2014

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
6
3
3
7
5
2
7
4
1
6
3
1
13
10
10
14
12
9
14
11
8
13
10
8
20
17
17
21
19
16
21
18
15
20
17
15
27
24
24
28
26
23
28
25
22
27
24
 
 
31
 
 
30
 
 
29


2013

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
7
4
4
1
6
3
1
5
2
7
4
2
14
11
11
8
13
10
8
12
9
14
11
9
21
18
18
15
20
17
15
19
16
21
18
16
28
25
25
22
27
 
22
26
23
28
25
23
 
 
 
29
 
 
29
 
30

 
30


2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
2
6
5
2
7
4
2
6
3
1
5
3
9
13
12
9
14
11
9
13
10
8
12
10
16
20
19
16
21
18
16
20
17
15
19
17
23
27
26
23
28
25
23
27
24
22
26
24
30
 
 
30
 
 
30
 
 
29
 
31


2011

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
3
7
7
4
2
6
4
1
5
3
7
5
10
14
14
11
9
13
11
8
12
10
14
12
17
21
21
18
16
20
18
15
19
17
21
19
24
28
28
25
23
27
25
22
26
24
28
26
31
 
 
 
30
 
 
29
 
31
 
 


2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
4
1
1
5
3
7
5
2
6
4
1
6
11
8
8
12
10
14
12
9
13
11
8
13
18
15
15
19
17
21
19
16
20
18
15
20
25
22
22
26
25
28
26
23
27
25
22
27
 
 
 
 
31
 
 
30
 
 
29
 


2009

Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
6
2
2
6
4
1
6
3
7
5
2
7
13
9
9
13
11
8
13
10
14
12
9
14
20
16
16
20
18
15
20
17
21
19
16
21
27
23
23
27
25
22
27
24
28
26
23
28
 
 
 
 
 
29
 
31
 
 
30