Federal Census Indexing Woes and Cures
We’re fortunate in the 21st century to have various forms of genealogical help groups online, most accommodating a broad range of experience and skill levels. Facebook hosts a number of those groups, like some of my favorites: New York City Genealogy, Descendants of New Amsterdam Founders, and AAHGS NY – Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. There are also forums that communicate by group emails or posts. My go-to on that front is the Transitional Genealogists Forum (TGF). Initially designed to help those transitioning from hobbyists to professionals, it’s subscribers now represent a broader audience.
Not every topic discussed in those groups are of interest or use to me, but one on TGF this past month really got my attention. It began as a question about the 1820 federal census for a particular county, but it quickly expanded to discuss inaccurate indexing in censuses, material that missed being indexed altogether, Ancestry indexing vs. FamilySearch indexing, missing pages from certain counties on certain sites, state vs. federal copies of the federal census, etc., etc., etc. The discussion certainly opened my eyes on a few fronts, so I thought I’d share some of it with your eyes.
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I have run into this myself in researching Ionia and Montcalm counties of Michigan. In all cases, images provided by Ancestry were limited, while FamilySearch carried the full source. My census experience involved the agriculture schedules. For 1860 and 1870 only the first page with the name listing was found on Ancestry. FamilySearch provided both pages for each farmer listed.
Missing pages are not limited to the census either. My other example was in Ancestry’s Michigan Wills collection. Images on Ancestry for my research subject’s loose paper probate file totaled seven (including the will). The equivalent probate file on FamilySearch contained thirty one–including the inventory list of his estate! Lesson learned for me? I go to the FamilySearch catalog first to verify sources.
I find the image quality is very different between sites. Often the 1870 census in Indiana has very poor image readbility on FamilySearch so a check on Ancestry or HeritageQuest (don’t forget them – they used different microfilm rolls and new indexing – only available through your public library but very worth the effort) yield a much more readable image.
Thanks for a great article! I too notice a difference in image quality between Ancestry and FamilySearch, so I usually try both! Thanks again!
If you want to check Heritage Quest as an alternate census source, make sure you check the resources your local library offers online from your home, using your library card. My local library in Mineola, NY offers library card holders home access benefits from online collections our county offers (Nassau) which includes Hertitage Quest, but also many historic newspapers and collections from ProQuest, Gale, and much more.
Has a list of states holding census copies been compiled?
Not to my knowledge, but I’d love to be corrected about that. FamilySearch makes a blanket statement that few states’ copies survive.