Blog post

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

FindMyPast frustration: Metadata madness

I’m trying extract the answer to a simple question from FindMyPast.

In short: I want to know what directories are included in their Victorian Directories record set. In 2012 there was a list on the site. Now there isn’t.

They replied courteously and promptly to my initial message. I’m not sure they actually read the question. They provided me with a link to the Victorian Directories search page.

I can forgive that. I replied and told them that the link did not have the information I asked for. It gave the name of one directory only. I pointed out that there were more directories in the record set than just that one.

I received a courteous and reasonably prompt reply signed by a different name. They explained to me that the link I had been provided could be used for searching Victorian Directories, reiterated that this one directory was included, and provided some additional blurb about the directory.

I realise that my timing may be bad, with the release of a big new data set. But still….

Now I’m trying to work out how to reply. Meanwhile, I shall vent.

My thoughts on not having a list of inclusions:

  • It’s bad form for any data manager. Bad data manager! Really, the data custodians who are entrusting them with the digital presentation of their data should give them a smack and tell them to do better.
  • It’s poor customer service. We want to know what we’re paying for.
  • It demonstrates a lack of understanding of a genealogist’s needs. We need to know what records we have searched. We need to know if the nil result we came up with was because the person wasn’t listed in the directory, or if the record wasn’t there.* The interpretation is very different!
  • Poor data management warns of poor quality control. I’m not convinced that all of the directories that should be there (assuming it hasn’t changed too much since 2012) are on the site.
  • It is not possible for a user to check the data quality – and we need to. See point above. Last year I found that I wasn’t getting the results I expected from the Merchant Seamen collection because two series that were supposed to be in the site were missing entirely. Hundreds of thousands of records from The National Archives were simply not there.
    That one directory they mentioned sounds like a great resource. What a pity it was never among the results returned.

Next steps:

  • Work out what I could realistically achieve by writing back again.
  • Write a reply framed with those goals in mind.

I also wonder what is the best way to provide feedback to FindMyPast about metadata and search issues, in a way that will be heard. I can’t imagine that this sort of feedback actually goes anywhere via the help email given the responses I’ve had to this and other questions I’ve asked.



* We also need to be able to find out if the record didn’t come up in the search results because it was spelled differently, mistranscribed, the page was gone, or it was unreadable. We need to be able to browse our way to the page and take a look! But that’s a search interface issue rather than a metadata issue. Today my vent is about metadata.


  1. Can understand your Grrs. I tweeted a couple of FMP people in the US to see if they can suggest where you might get some satisfaction.

    1. Thanks Jill. I've done some more digging around on the site. I was partly mistaken as there actually is only one directory in "Victorian Directories" now (unlike 2012) - but it's not the one they say is there! That one has turned up in a different record set entirely. I've realised that they are keeping some of the directories I found in a different record set. The others I am most interested in right now that have been referred to on their site in the past are still missing in action. Sigh.

  2. How frustrating Shelley! When I can't find something that's supposed to be there I'll sometimes try checking for the whole village/street etc, if that's possible. I did that once and found an entire English village was missing from a census...luckily I he already searched the old way and knew the family as there.