The folks at MyHeritage.com are allowing sneak peeks of their new genealogy meta-search tool. Their celebrity face-recognition database is getting all the press (see today's Washington Post), but it's the site's search capabilities that will keep genealogists interested.
Before you get started, you'll have to download a Java applet (it took a couple of tries on my PC with WinXP running Firefox). You can then execute your search, making either a simple or advanced search.
With Simple Search, you can enter only first and last name. With Advanced Search, you can narrow down your results using date and place of birth and death, and sex. You can also specify the class of records to search (birth records, criminal records, immigration, etc.), or which of 431 databases to query (Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, GenCircles, RootsWeb, etc.).
As with other genealogy search engines, MyHeritage Search allows you to search by the exact spelling of a surname, or with Soundex enabled. What sets it apart is Megadex—a new, proprietary alternative to Soundex. With Megadex selected, you'll be offered 30 variants of the surname, of which you'll be asked to choose as many as ten before proceeding.
Search results are given as a list of websites in no discernible order (they can be resorted by database name or number of matches). A preview image of each website is shown, with the number of matches and a link to the relevant site. Some have an "Expand" option, which calls up an expanded summary of the search results.
The site still has some bugs to work out—when I went back to try a second surname with Megadex enabled, I was greeted by a blank screen instead of a list of variants. Nevertheless, MyHeritage Search does offer a valuable alternative to the Googlers among us. And with the introduction of its genealogy face-recognition tools and a free family-tree application just around the corner, MyHeritage.com is certainly a bookmark-worthy site.
Update: I neglected to cite some "coming attractions" Hagit Katzenelson of MyHeritage.com mentioned in an email today:
We’re also planning to launch a few other search-related features very soon.
The first will allow registered members to save and annotate their searches. Each search can be saved, sites already visited will be marked, and users can annotate each set of matches, i.e. for each spelling variant in each database. Another feature is to display, per surname, which other members (per each member’s agreement) have searched for that name. This will connect between people searching for the same names. We are also working on a feature that automatically re-runs your saved searches and lets you know if new matches have been found.