I love OCR (optical character recognition) technology! Because of OCR, companies can publish a lot of records in a short time because the information doesn't require humans to index the text. However, the fatal flaw of OCR is that it doesn't pick up everything. If the print on the page is not nearly perfect then it is not recognized correctly. While I have known this for a while, sometimes I forget.
Don't get me wrong, I think OCR is great! Without it, a lot of the records I have used (newspapers, city directories, etc.) wouldn't be available on the web. Unfortunately, the fact that so many records can be found by just doing a name search alone tends to make me complacent at times. While searching for my family in city directories at Ancestry.com, I was excited to find so many directories for the places my relatives lived. But then, it occurred to me that I wasn't finding my family in as many directories as I would have expected.
“Wait,” I thought to myself, “this is OCR.” I realized that I had to stop relying on the crutch of a search engine. I needed to inspect each directory myself to make sure I wasn't missing anything. As much of a pain in the neck as it would prove, my task was clear. While it would take more time to go to the card catalog and navigate to each directory, if I wanted the records, I had no choice.
Since I have been checking individual city directories I have succeeded in finding my family in more records. When I can, I try to add them to my online tree, but because of OCR the name doesn't always show up as a possibility to attach. Oh well, at least I know they are there. I guess others will have to track them down themselves.
The moral of this story is: Don't grow complacent; remember OCR's weakness and search the old-fashioned way.