FamilySearch uses the Mediawiki engine to power its popular FamilySearch Wiki. With its roots back with Wikipedia, the Mediawiki engine brings a wealth of power to the site, but unfortunately it also brings some inherent weaknesses.
The most common complaints heard from FamilySearch Wiki users is the weakness of the Mediawiki search engine. Let’s face it, if your search term isn’t an exact match for a title or term on the wiki, the search will results will probably disappoint or even fail to provide the hoped for results.
Studies on this subject by numerous writers and techies have a common theme that elucidates the issues with the search engine.
- Results are often wrong or misleading.
- Words shorter than 4 characters are ignored.
- Markup code is displayed in search results
- Search syntax is limited
Wikipedia has found a way to mitigate most of these problems fairly well, but undoubtedly, the issues were resolved after a lot of work and cost. That luxury isn’t available on the FamilySearch wiki.
if you are already on the FamilySearch Wiki site, thoughtful choices of terms will usually get the results you want or at least get you in the ball park.
Congratulations on finding the wiki by the way. FamilySearch seems determined to keep the wiki gold mine hidden using one of the best examples of How Not To Design a Links Section on a Main Page. They use the interesting "bury it under the innocuous Learn link" method.
Unless you have a photographic memory, you’ll never remember the actual URL of the wiki either. https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Main_Page
Fortunately, the URL wiki.familysearch.org resolves to the wiki site and we can all remember that address to access the wiki. Unfortunately, it won’t work in a special queries, so we have to use the long normal address in them.
Is there a solution to mitigate the shortcomings of the Mediawiki search engine? In a word, YES. Google Site Query.. You’ll still have to remember the long wiki URL but you’ll get the results you are seeking if they are present on the wiki.
The syntax of the Google site query looks like this:
site:https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/ (space) then your search terms.
An example search string is:
site:https://www.familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/ vital records alpine utah
Let’s compare the search results for the above search term using both search engines.
Mediawiki (FamilySearch Wiki engine)
Google Site Query
Note that neither search gave us much for Alpine, Utah. In fact, the wiki page they both point to is the same page on the wiki, but note the difference in the results descriptions.
The FamilySearch results start by showing wikitext code which is followed by a partial description of a town history book written by Jenny Adams Wild.
The Google Site Query results don’t include the confusing wikitext and immediately talks about Vital Records, which was one of our search terms.
Both search results tell us there isn’t much on the wiki about vital records at the Alpine City, Utah level. Genealogy researchers will know to look up one or two levels to the county and state to find vital records for most states in the U.S. Records of this nature and others such as church records are held at different repository levels in countries and organizations around the world. The FamilySearch wiki articles will help you find the repositories used by these organizations..
Lets look at another comparison between the two search engines using the terms "Speymouth Scotland Records" (no quotes)
Google Site Query
Once again we see a difference between the two search engines. Google Site Query displays one more result and more importantly, the results are easy to read, don’t include wikitext coding and offer additional related results on the FamilySearch wiki via links included in the results text.
Compare searches using both methods yourself, using exactly the same search terms and see which set of results you like the best. I rarely use the native Mediawiki search field when searching the wiki but have rather have a bookmark for the Google Site Query on my bookmark bar. Using it involves a simple click and adding the search term(s). I suggest you do the same. You’ll never remember the wiki’s URL address otherwise.
The wiki does have an article about the use of acceptable Boolean terms that can be used with its native search engine. Using them will help you find the information you want.
These terms and more work equally well using the Google Site Query and in addition you get the added benefits of the superior search engine.
If you use the native FamilySearch Wiki search engine, don’t be too thrown off by the wikitext that frequently appears in the results text. Just read around it.
Here’s an example of wikitext code for graphics at the top of a wiki page showing up in a results description:
The brackets, multiple commas and wiggly brackets are wikitext. They exist in the wiki article but we don’t see them when the page is rendered in our browsers.
Unfortunately, their inclusion in the results description frequently pushes the words we want to see out of the limited space in description box, thus impacting the usefulness of the search descriptions.
The FamilySearch Wiki truly is a genealogy Gold Mine for researchers. Now that you know how to search for nuggets in it using Google Site Query, give it a try. You’ll come away wealthy with all of the research resources you find.