One of my favorite websites lately is the Family Search Pilot. I know this site has been available for a while, but it has also undergone a few changes since it first debuted. This website has a great deal of original records, and it’s free! I love that the indexing is all done by volunteers. I have spent a great deal of time indexing records for several of these databases. In fact, when I was in college, Family Search Indexing was one of my greatest procrastination tactics. I found that I could index without feeling too guilty that I wasn’t working on my homework because I was contributing to the greater genealogy community. It was a good cause, after all!
One of the things I love about the website is that you can always have a solid idea of what projects are being completed, and thus know what databases are coming up soon.
I also love that the administrators put partially completed databases up on the Pilot site. Sure, it’s not as useful as the entire database, but 20% of a giant database is better than no database at all. I have found many documents in partially completed databases, and I love that these databases are searchable even though they aren’t finished. It is also always very clear when a database hasn’t been completed, so if you search the database and don’t find anything, you know that you can check again later and might have a better result.
The site is very intuitive and simple to use, but there are a few things that are irritating about the search functions. Namely, after doing a search which ends in negative results, the site has a pop-up window which informs me of the negative results. If I don’t want to search that database any more, I close the box. From there I can choose to refine my search in that same database (which is what the pop-up box also allows me to do), or I can click the link to conduct a new search. It is here that the site is less than stellar. Rather than take me to the list of databases, I am returned to the main page with the general search form.
I almost never perform general searches, because I usually know exactly what database I want to use. For me, general searches too often result in so many matches that it is a pain to sort through the ones that could feasibly be the person or family I am looking for.
The other nit-picky problem I have is with saving the documents. It isn’t a major flaw, but it is annoying that when I save documents from the Pilot, I have to keep the name that the database has assigned to the image, which is always a number. Then, I can change the name of the file once it has been saved to my computer. It isn’t a major problem, but when I am locating several documents, one right after another, it’s a hassle to have to change the names once they’ve already been saved.
Overall, though, I love the Family Search Pilot, particularly for American research. (To be honest, I am not really familiar with the international databases that are available, so I can’t comment on them.) I love the fact that the Pilot includes such a wide variety of really useful databases, and I look forward to what the Pilot will have to offer in the next few years.