Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cyndi's List: Browse Categories vs Search Engine

A couple of weeks ago, at a local seminar, I referred someone to one of the categories on Cyndi's List. When I looked over his shoulder to point out what he needed to find I saw him use the site's search engine to get to the category and then to a link. I wondered how many people out there might do this on a regular basis and ignore the categories and all the link categorization that I do.

The purpose of Cyndi's List today is the same as it was in 1996 when it was brand new. It is a categorized and cross-referenced index of links to everything I can find online for genealogy. This is what I do. Often 12+ hours a day. I find new sources online and I categorize them. For example, one link to a web page about the History of Civil Registration in Ireland gets put under multiple categories/sub-categories in order for people to find it no matter how they might end up looking for it:

  • United Kingdom & Ireland » Ireland & Northern Ireland » Birth, Marriage, Death
  • Births & Baptisms » Locality Specific: United Kingdom & Ireland
  • Marriages & Divorce » Locality Specific: United Kingdom & Ireland
  • Death Records » Locality Specific: United Kingdom & Ireland
  • ...and under BMD in each county in Ireland
I admit that I may be too close to this issue. I work on the backend of the site and actively use the categorization because that is what how I think and how I research. 

So, is there a benefit to browsing categories versus using the search engine?

For the first several years I resisted putting a search engine on the web site. The concept didn't make sense to me. Using a search engine means you have to try to guess at words and phrases that might be used in either a link's title or description. In doing so you may miss out on some links that don't use the words or phrases you are looking for, but still might contain information you need. After a couple of years I finally gave in and added the search engine. It appears at the top right on each page of the site. But, what are you missing by not scrolling further down the page?

I have been told by several people that by browsing the categories new ideas for research possibilities pop up. For example, one lady told me she never would have thought of railroad records for her ancestors until she saw the Railroads category on Cyndi's List. When was the last time you browsed the categories

Benefits of Using the Categories Per Cyndi's List Users:

  • "You find things you didn't know you were looking for!" --Jane 
  • "It's similar to browsing the library shelves rather than using the catalog. If you aren't finding something useful using one method, try the other." --Mike
  • "I will 2nd what Jane said - you find categories/areas that you didn't know about before. Gets you thinking." --Jen
  • "Sometimes you don't know what to search for to get all of the results. Cyndi's List brings together all of the places that Cyndi and the entire community have found for a given subject." --Tim
  • "I'm a category browser." --Mark
  • "I agree with all of the above. I don't use the search engine, either. ('Oh look, a squirrel!' Then off I go to delve into something else.) I also agree that it's like library shelves." --Linda
  • "Categories show you things you didn't know were out there, and trigger your mind to think in paths it might not have found otherwise. Search engine: bleh, if you don't have a clue what the choices are, you don't know how well it's telling you what's out there." --Megan
  • "Agreed. Sometimes you don't know what you don't know. As in, you aren't aware certain things even exist, or that they've been digitized and are hiding somewhere. That crafting Cyndi digs them out for us." --Polly
  • "I would much rather browse the topics than use the search engine. It's for the same reason I would rather browse the books rather than using a "closed stack" library. There are some things I know to look for, and the search engine is a great vehicle for doing that. But, sometimes I just need to be made aware of things that I just didn't know were out there." --Peggy
  • "I always prefer browsing. Perhaps I'm looking for something specific but lo and behold when I browse I spot something I would never have thought to query in a search engine. I like a search engine for names but not for topics." --Lorine

Types of Categories on Cyndi's List:

  • Ethnic groups
  • How to
  • Localities
    • For the US there are also categories for each state and all counties
    • For the UK & Ireland, a category for each country and all counties
    • For Canada there are categories for each province
    • For Australia, individual state categories are in the works
  • Methodologies
  • Occupations
  • Preservation
  • Record types
  • Religions
  • Social Networking
  • Technology

Category Pages Include:

  • A set of sub-categories that include standard genealogical category names found across the site, as well as sub-categories that are unique to that subject
  • Links to Related Categories to help connect you with more topics for your research
  • And some categories and sub-categories have definitions, descriptions, and other helpful pieces of information for the topic you are researching


Alona Tester said...

I'm very much in favour of browsing, because you get to see the full list of results then.

The only time I use search is if I'm not sure what category something would be under ... so I search first, find it, then browse the rest of that category. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I often browse the categories on your site and find them invaluable but sometimes I am looking for something specific and do not know or am confused as to what category it might possibly fall under. For me the search is the easiest and most direct method in finding my answers. I am by no way under appreciating your hard and generous work on the Cyndi's list site. Thank you for all your hard work.

Jana Iverson Last said...


I want you to know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!

Unknown said...

Just read this blog and immediately went to research my family using the Railroad category. I'd forgotten about this resource.Thanks
for the work that you do!