Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Finding Census Records on Archives.com - General Search

As most genealogy researchers know, the United States Census records are available on the subscription site, www.Archives.com

I described the information available by census year in Archives.com has 1790 to 1930 U.S. Census Records, and did a general search in the census records in Searching Census Records on Archives.com. 

In the latter post, I noted that:

"A user cannot use wild cards for any name - the acceptable characters are letters, spaces and dashes. The user can select either "All" or a specific state for the Residence and Birth State fields. The user can add a birth year range of plus/minus 0, 1, 2, 5, or 10 years. An "Exact" check box produces only an Exact Match."

Julie Hill of Archives.com commented about my note that there are no wild card searches:

"Randy, thanks so much for your feedback. Wild card searches are an enhancement we’d like to add in the future – as we know this can be very useful. In the meantime, our search engine has several capabilities built in that are helpful. When users run a search, built in logic will look for name variants (like if you enter “Jo” we also return names like “Joe” “Joseph” etc), alternate names, and misspellings. We look forward to adding the rest of the census images, along with search functionality enhancements, in the coming months. Thanks!"

I wondered if they had added the wild card search capability, so I revisited the Census search.  There is not a wild card search capability at this time.  However, the search that Julie described, wherein a user can use any number of letters for a partial first name works fine.  For example:

1)  Here is the general search screen for "Fre" (not exact) "Seaver" (exact) with no other field entries:

There is a "?" next to the "Exact" box, which says:

"What is the "Exact" Option?
To help you find more results, we automatically adjust your search criteria for certain queries (for example, if you search for "John Doe born in 1950 in Nebraska" we may include results for "Jerry Doe born in 1950" or "John Doe born in 1950 in Kansas").
If you check the "Exact" box we will add extra weight to this criteria, but may still show other close matches to account for estimated dates, nicknames, and transcription errors. We recommend you use this feature when you are confident in the information you are entering."

Clicking the "Search" button provided 558 matches in all of the U.S. Census years.  The first entries were:

Since I left the "Exact" box unchecked, the first name list starts with name variants starting with the "F" initial, and eventually gets through many names that start with "F" like Fannie, Florence, Frank, Fred, etc.  While the first names seem to be in nearly alphabetical order by specific census years, but the years are not listed separately.  It is very difficult to find a specific person in a specific year with a general search.  I could select a specific census year and obtain all matches for that year.

2)  What if I check the "Exact" box for the first name?  Here is the search screen with "Fre" (exact)  "seaver" (exact) and no other search field entries:

There are only 116 matches for this general search in all of the census years:

The search above found only first names starting with "Fre" like "Fred," "Freda," "Freddie," "Frederick," "Fredrick," etc.  If a user is going to do a general search in all census years, then making the partial first name "exact" works well.

3)  What does the search match look like, and how can a user navigate it?  On the screen above, I clicked on the first match and saw:

The census "record" for this person lists his name, age, gender, race, residence, other family members, NARA microfilm, roll and page number, etc.  For the 1850, 1870, and 1900 through 1930 U.S. Census records, the page image is available, courtesy of www.FamilySearch.org

4)  When I click on the "View image" or "View the original image" links, The census page appears:

In the lower right-hand corner, the portion of the census image in the window is shown.  The census image pages open as shown above, with most of the page shown at the minimum magnification.

5)  The magnification can be increased using the Zoom slider control on the left-hand side of the line below the census title.  I magnified to about 50% and saw:

The image takes a second or two to refine the resolution and then shows the image.  The user can navigate around the page by using the "magic hand."  The image brightness and image contrast can be changed using slider controls.  The image can also be inverted using the "Invert colors" check box on the line below the census title. 

6)  On the top line with the Archives logo, the user can navigate to the "Prev Image" or "Next Image" or can "Print" the image, "Download" the image, or "Save to Tree" the image (that's the online family tree on Archives.com. 

The user can go back to the Record summary screen by clicking on the blue "Back to Record" button in the census title line.  On the Record Summary screen, the user can change any or all of the search criteria.

7)  Lessons learned: 

1)  It is advised to search in specific U.S. Census year databases rather than do a General search in all U.S. Census years.

2)  Using a partial first name without the "Exact" box checked results in many matches for names that don't match the letters provided.

3)  Using a partial first name with the "Exact" box checked results in matches that start with the partial letters. 

Disclosure: Archives.com provided a free subscription to their collection at the SCGS 2011 Jamboree which I appreciate. This did not influence my statements in this blog post, but it did enable them to be made!

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