Saturday, May 15, 2021

Don't Blink


Don't look now, but I think a really great idea came and went in a micro-moment at Ancestry. And I hope it will come back.

I don't know about you, but when I set up my family tree on, I wanted to develop a "style sheet" to standardize those pesky little details like formats or abbreviations. Those who have been at this genealogy pursuit for decades might relate to one such device used long before the advent of computers: the tradition of writing surnames in all capital letters. Another one would be using the international date format of listing day before month and year, such as 15 May 2021.

While computer search capabilities may have rendered the all-caps tradition less necessary, I still recommend adopting a style sheet perspective. Once I put my tree on Ancestry, I chose to follow their recommendation of shortening the month to the first three letters only, making readouts less cumbersome, for example. But I still decided to spell out words like Saint instead of "St." or Mount instead of "Mt." Regardless of what I decided to make my "style," I wanted to be consistent in its use.

One of those style details was making sure to list, for any geographic reference, not only the city or state, but include both the county and the country. Our family's tree has become quite international, and I wanted to reflect that detail consistently. However, it becomes tedious, when encountering a digitized document to add to my tree, to have to go in to the entry and type in all those missing elements—particularly the county.

One day earlier this month, I noticed that I no longer needed to click with my mouse, then move my hands to the keyboard to type in the missing county. In fact, I didn't even need to add the first comma; just by clicking on the line of data, a drop-down menu gave me options, including my preferred format. Just like that!

Skipping straight to clickable choices is a detail I had come to appreciate at, where that same feature makes correcting details to my tree a streamlined process. Once I realized the same option was now operable at Ancestry, my speed picked up considerably, as I moved through my tasks adding relatives to my family tree. I didn't even have to touch the keyboard any more for those added documents. That same protocol even applied to dates I wanted to shortened to my preferred format—just click to choose the one I wanted.

There was, of course, one tiny catch: after clicking my chosen geographic format, the drop-down menu developed this inconvenient knack of dropping back down again. To move on to the next item, I learned to just click the mouse somewhere else on the page to get the drop-down line to simply go away. It was a minor annoyance, certainly not outweighed by the benefit gained by the new click-only improvement. I just figured someone coded something wrong, or forgot one step in the process of setting things up.

But then, poof! As unobtrusively as it had appeared, this little gem of an improvement went away. I blinked. I pinched myself. I checked to make sure I wasn't dreaming. But it was gone.

Did I really just imagine those moments when I was suddenly speeding through my family tree data?

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