Saturday, July 1, 2006

Census Index Errors at Ancestry or HQO

Have you found every one of your families in the Ancestry or HQO census indexes and page images? There are many reasons why you may have not found your families in the census records, including:

1) The census taker did not enumerate the family (therefore they are not in the index)

2) The census taker did enumerate the family (and they are in the index), but:
* put the wrong surname on the entry.
* the person giving the information gave erroneous names, ages, birthplaces, etc.
* when he copied the data onto the federal copy of the census form, he left the family off the copy.

3) For the families on the census records, the indexer:
* Could not accurately read the handwriting of the enumerator, or any overmarks that might obscure the data.
* Could not read the page or image due to faded writing or a damaged, torn or soiled page.
* mis-typed the surname, given name, ages, relationships, birthplace, etc.
* skipped one or more lines on the census page, or a whole census page, by mistake

Based on my extensive use of the census indexes and images on both HQO and Ancestry, I believe that the error rate of the indexes is on the order of 15% to 25%. I have asked some professional researchers, and have gotten responses in that range.

I also believe that about 40% to 50% of those "errors" are for families that are actually on the census pages, but the enumerator or indexer errors are so bad that you have to use advanced search strategies to find them - just putting in the names and a state/county will not find them. A combination of wild cards for names, age ranges, birthplace, and specific locations often will result in success for those elusive census folks.

What is your experience?

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