Posted by on December 10, 2009 in Collections, Digitization

In a survey of members last year, top on your wish list was improved images for U.S. Federal Censuses. As you know, the U.S. Censuses are one of the richest sources of information for family history searches. So, improving this collection has been a top priority at throughout 2009.

We’ve enhanced six new U.S. Census collections – in addition to the six we released a few months ago.  In all, we’ve gone through over 200 million records to greatly improve images and many indexes.

Enhanced and clearer images are now available for the 1790-1900 censuses and indexes have been improved for the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1900 censuses. If you have had a hard time finding your ancestors in these censuses, it’s time to search again.

It’s amazing that these wonderful records that chronicle American families for the past 200 years are now available to us in the comfort of our homes. The journey that the U.S. census took from the hands of the census taker who knocked on your ancestor’s door, to the screen of your home computer is a long one. Understanding that route can help you when it comes to interpreting your finds and weighing any conflicting details the census reveals.

You’ll notice all of the images have a cleaner, crisper look. And occasionally you’ll find you can read names that were illegible before—either because they were too light, too dark, too blurry, covered in tape, or even in some cases missing, etc. census BA images

So if you found a record before that you couldn’t quite decipher (“Is that really my ancestor’s name? What is his occupation? I can’t quite make it out. . . .”) you’ll want to look again. The images will be updated on your family trees as well, so if you saved the record there, you can just revisit it on your tree.


  1. Valerie

    Thanks for improving these images. Any idea on how long the 1910, 20 & 30 improvement will take? Those are the years I really have issues with.

  2. Jerry Bryan

    p.172 of the 1830 census for Anderson County, Tennessee has been missing from ancestry’s database for many years. The enhanced collection does include p.172, so that’s great news. However, none of the names on p.172 are indexed. Was fixing this index within the scope of the project?

  3. Donna Cary

    I used to be able to access my husband’s grgr grandfather Mitchell Vaul in the 1850 census for Shelby County Indiana, but now when I enter his name, it doesn’t show. It was a bit difficult to read, but not impossible. If you couldn’t fix it you should have left it alone, not get rid of it.

  4. BobNY

    The 1900 index and images were supposedly “enhanced” at the beginning of the year. It gave rise to a problem which I described in great detail to both Anne Mitchell and Chris Lydiksen.

    The gist of the problem is as follows:
    ***Censuses that have been improved already are 1900 (index and images)***

    This is a perfect example of ancestry not thinking through an issue. You may have improved the 1900 index, but you have made it absolutely useless to browsers. Prior to your improvements, if one were to browse a large city, e.g. New York or Chicago, there would be a description of the ED within the appropriate county.

    Now there is nothing but a series of meaningless ED numbers with no description. Chicago is not as bad as New York. At least for Cook County – Chicago you maintained the Wards so there are only 20 or 30 meaningless ED numbers at a time. For New York, there are over 1,000 meaningless numbers in a virtually endless stream. And since you don’t believe in leading zeros, they are not even in numerical order.

    You have the information for each ED boundary since it was there before your “improvement.” Could you please put the data back?

    Anne’s response was that it was not a search issue and passed it off. Chris — although nominally responsible for U.S. content — passed it off to an “expert.”

    Following are the comments from Chris regarding the return of the 1900 Ed descriptions . . .

    Written by: Chris Lydiksen,
    Posted on:
    August 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm
    Bob, One of our genealogists is assessing the severity of the issue you’ve noted. More to come on this.

    Written by: Chris Lydiksen,
    Posted on: August 21, 2009 at 9:59 am
    #10 – Bob, The ED issue is being looked at.

    Chris Lydiksen,
    Posted on:
    August 21, 2009 at 10:45 am
    On the issue of missing EDs, below is the the I received from an internal source. If this is not accurate, please be patient with us as we need to better understand your question.

    – Are you certain the ED descriptions were there previously for the cities you mention?

    – Is it possible that you could be mistakenly confusing the 1900 US Federal Census with either (1) the 1920 US Federal Census, or (2) an unrelated Web site?

    I responded to that non-response with:
    On the issue of missing EDs, below is the the I received from an internal source. If this is not accurate, please be patient with us as we need to better understand your question.


    – Are you certain the ED descriptions were there previously for the cities you mention?


    – Is it possible that you could be mistakenly confusing the 1900 US Federal Census with either (1) the 1920 US Federal Census, or (2) an unrelated Web site?


    The penultimate response I received was:
    Chris Lydiksen,
    Posted on:
    August 25, 2009 at 11:46 am
    #62 and #63 – I’ve forwarded your feedback to the expert on the case. We’ll get back to you again on this.

    Chris’ final response indicated to me that he still did not underdtand the question and basically has let it die a natural death.

    Chris Lydiksen,
    Posted on:
    August 25, 2009 at 3:50 pm
    #76 – If the problem is with the transcribed index, then the U.S. content product manager is the right person to address this. If the problem is with the search tool, then the search product manager is the right person to address this. As stated already today, the issue is currently under review.


  5. Andy Hatchett

    ATTN: Heather

    Can you kindly explain just how leaving off the birthplace, father’s birthplace, and mother’s birthplace on the 1930 census can be considered an improvement??

    Last I knew improvements were meant to enhance the usefulness of a thing – not destroy the usefulness!


  6. BobNY

    #5 Andy,

    Since we have been bitching that these “things” are not records, I guess they see no harm in making them useless.

    Unfortunately, it appears that it is much worse than that. Try doing an exact search in old search for a known non-head of household with just name and place of birth. 90% of the admitedly small sample I tried did not locate the target. It would seem that POB is no longer a universally searchable parameter for the 1930 census.

  7. Hardie Hartung

    I like the improved images.
    However, you still have not corrected
    the 1850 index records for Indiana.

    How do you figure that 116,283 living
    in Indiana were born in Iowa??

    In 1850 they use Ia a lot for Indiana, but your indices have made
    that into Iowa. This has been brought to your attention several times in the past and they still
    are not corrected.

  8. Nancy Archdekin

    I really do NOT consider lightening images to the point that you can’t read them an improvement. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve taken a wonderful resource and turned it into something completely unusable. As for improved search capabilities that’s a joke. Surnames I’ve easily found in the past no longer show up anywhere in the US even when searching by surname alone. Thank goodness, Heritage Quest images are available and now the LDS church is working on their own digitization and indexing of the census. Looks like I won’t need to budget money for Ancestry in the future. Personally, I think adding new documents would be much more useful to the genealogical community, but Ancestry no longer seems to be interested in that group of users preferring instead to attract those who want to build a quick easy tree, no work or reflection involved.

  9. Roger Nupdal

    Thge 1900 Census for Thingvalla Twp., Pembina Co., North Dakota does appear to be clearer to me, but I noticed that the rendering of the names in the “Exact Search Results” for the G.B. Nupdal Family are not all correctly spelled.
    Gudinuasdar should be Gudmundur
    Sigurbirn should be Sigurbjorn (He was my Grandfather)
    Also, Gudmundur was a son of G.B. & Agnes, not a servant.
    There was only one Elizbet, & she was a daughter.
    I hope corrections will be made, rather than just added notations.

  10. Andy Hatchett

    Roger Re:# 9

    It seems that Ancestry *never* removes a wrong index entry. They merely enable an alternative to be added.

    Silly and *very* shortsighted of them but there it is.


  11. Linda Bowden

    The 1910 census for Calcaseau Parish LA has some pages that appear to only be dots on the page. I hope that you will be able to retreive that information. My mother is on one of those pages with her parents. They were both dead before the next census, so that is the only one that she was on with them. It used to be legible, apparently, because it is in the soundex.

  12. Jerry Bryan

    Re: Andy hatchett #5. The problem you cite with the 1930 census indexes has always been there, and was not just now introduced. There is a birth place in the index for the head of household, but not for anybody else. So the new 1930 images didn’t make the index any worse.

  13. Jerry Mainer

    I have benn TRYING to use this site to look my family history. Your site wants me to sign up again.I am a member already. What is goin g on with this site??

  14. Gary Gibb

    Re: Andy Hatchett #5 and Jerry Bryan #14.

    Jerry’s point is correct. What Ancestry has done is improve 12 of the census collections with improved images and indexes. We think these will be very helpful for our customers.

    Ancestry has continued to improve and enhance the census collections over the years. We started with getting images up. Next we added indexes. Since then we have made many more enhancements like:
    a) Enhancing the indexes from head of household only to full name indexes
    b) Adding the ability to make user corrections and additions to the census indexes (these are saved as alternates)
    c) Adding the ability to merge the census data with your online family tree
    d) Enhanced the images by rescanning using the latest technology
    e) Enhanced indexes from these cleaner images
    f) Adding census schedules that have never before been released

    We are working on improving the 1910, 1920 and 1930. Watch for continued steady progress on improving these. We have several additional census enhancements that we have not yet announced.

    The good news is that we have steadily and consistently worked on improving the census even as we continue to add millions of new records every month.

  15. BobNY

    #16 Gary,

    In addition to the issue I raised in #4, which you and everyone at ancestry manage to conveniently ignore, there is another issue with your supposed census “records,” which keeps popping up.

    Whoever creates these so-called records IS MAKING STUFF UP.

    Check the following in the 1900 census.
    Name: Raffaele Cozeuzo
    [Raffaele Cozenz]
    (neither of which is what the population schedule says, but that’s another issue)

    Age: 60
    Birth Date: Apr 1840
    Birthplace: Italy
    Race: White
    Ethnicity: American
    Gender: Male
    Immigration Year: 1890
    Where on the population schedule is any reference to ethnicity? If anyone bothers to look at it, they will see that this person was born in Italy, emigrated in 1890 and was an alien. So not only is there no indication of ethnicity in the original, YOU MAKE ONE UP which is in direct opposition to the stated facts.

    What up wit that?

  16. Valerie

    #18 BobNY

    Do you mean the listing in Manhattan, NY? If I were to transcribe this record, I would come up with the same information as what is listed.

    If his name is incorrect and you know what it should be, I’d suggest adding an alternative – because I see Raffaele Cozeuzo or Cozenzo.

    Also, he is listed as “W” in column 5, “color or race.” W=White

  17. Mary Beth Marchant

    Re: @18 & 19-I did not check this but does it say ethnicity: American or does it say “W” for White as opposed to another designation. If it actually says “American” that would be incorrect but if the page lists “W” then that was the correct listing back then. Other designations such as “C” or “N” or no longer used but was correct then.

  18. BobNY

    #19 and #20
    Valerie and Marybeth

    I am not refering to the transcription, I am referring to the information that Ancestry places in the so-called record.

    What I wrote in my message is copied EXACTLY from this thing they call a record. It says “ETHNICITY: AMERICAN.” That information appears nowhere on the population schedule. THEY JUST MADE IT UP!!!

    I know the transcription is faulty, but that is not the issue I raised, nor do I need to be told to fix it. Yes, he is white. How does that make his ethnicity American? Since you know what is in Col. 5, you obviously looked at the population schedule. Where does it ask for ethnicity? How did Ancestry decide he was an American? THEY JUST MADE IT UP.

  19. Michael L. Hébert

    I have hundreds of saved census images on my computer. And, I’m not seeing the improvement in quality in the new images on the censuses that have them (1790-1870, 1900). As a matter of fact, I’m seeing a serious degradation in quality between the old images and the new. Here is just one example …

    The old image was clear and readable without any dark areas. I have many new images that are so light as to be unreadable whereas the old image was quite clear and readable.

    I for one don’t see the improvement … only bigger file sizes with many worse images.


  20. Robert Esch

    I, too have been patiently waiting for extension of the “family-at-a-time” recording for census below 1880, but when I try to sign up the individuals, it appears to still be one-person-at-a-time, so how is this feature enhanced? Bob Esch

  21. Nancy Smith

    I truly do appreciate the enhanced images. Some of the illegible has become readable; and the researching public appreciates that. However, I’m not impressed by all the “bells and whistles” you’ve been adding to searches and search results displays. I find most of them clumsy, interrupt your train of thought and can become just plain annoying.

  22. Chad Milliner

    Robert, before 1880 federal census enumerators did not ask how people in a household were related to each other.

  23. Jade

    1) Can’t read the new Nebraska State Census Collection at all using Firefox browser. No image file icon at all appears – just total blank white under the blue bar.

    2) The purported enhancements have lightened many enumerations to near-invisibility — certainly beyond legibility. For example, the 1870 enumeration for Piscataquis County, Maine. Automated enhancement is clearly not the viable method. Please restore the ones that have been washed out to the ones that used to be there.

    Thank you.

  24. BobNY


    Since Chris seems to be among the missing, do you think you could respond to #4 and #18 since you appear to be the only Content Specialist who actually deigns to communicate with PAYING customers?

  25. Jade

    BobNY, #27, 4, 18, your complaint about replacing detailed ED descriptions for NY City with a non-annotated list of numbers might be on someone’s “to-do” list but you have to be patient.

    It took only about 6 weeks to re-install a group of 1820 enumeration images that someone deleted around Sept. 9, 2009.

    But it took 2-1/2 years to correctly link index entries to, and install the images for, 2/3 of the images for one County’s World War I Draft Registration cards.

    And only 3 years after notification, a missing 1840 enumeration page (and related index links to wrong page) for Aroostook Co, Maine magically appeared. This was a Thanksgiving Surprise, no one ever responded back that they were going to fix it or that it was fixed.

    It might be that there is some deeper problem with those ED descriptions than you could see — such as an extra field deleted from that ?SQL file for the sake of search-engine compatibility. So just keep checking back, and the problem may one day be solved for the sake of browsability.

  26. Andy Hatchett

    Jade Re: #28

    If Ancestry can get rid of something in the blink of an eye then why should we have to be patient when they take months or years to fix a problem?

    Have these fools never heard of backups?

    That is the exact reason one creates them, so that errors can be easily undone.

    And if Ancestry *isn’t* creating backups then we all need to find a new organization to deal with as this one has no clue at all!

  27. tsk tsk tsk… name calling never helped anything. Play nice. Don’t let frustration eat your brain.

    to Andy #29… true point about the back-ups to resurrect from errors… but Jade #28 is also correct…. we do still need to be patient. I’m a betting fool that when multitasking is involved, it is usually the culprit for the delay…

    and we all know how corporate management insists on mulit-tasking. no matter what kind of job or for whom you work.

    back-ups are not as easy when mulitple changes and enhancements have been made in batches. Hopefully there is a system backup that exists for each individual change and not just stages of their enhancements cluster of stages…

    and you know how backing-up goes… it sorta like brushing your teeth. we all do it, but we could do it better.

    and the biggest delay I’m sure has to do with the nature “business”

    and when changes involve cost, it always needs approval….and nine times out of ten approval must come from the pack, there is no lone wolf.

    …and most board members of any type usually only meet once a month. And of course it has to take four, six or nine meetings before they all can agree to decided to put a vote through.

    And than if all the voting members are present and not on vacation or sick or on funeral leave than the vote can go thru..

    and yadda yadda yadda … the beat goes on.

  28. Betty Jean thomas

    Why am I not getting the data on One World Tree. Only a blank page appears with “done” at the bottom. Also I am not getting through with many of my census requests. Again just a blank page with done at the bottom.

  29. Andy Hatchett

    Betty Re:#31

    Be thankful you aren’t getting OneWorldTree data!

    OneWorldTree is nothing but pure junkology and isn’t worth the pixels it takes to display it onscreen.

    For anyone who is halfway serious about their genealoogy research it is a complete waste of time and effort.

  30. Beverly Mundy

    You may have improved the images for census records, but the window effect is still awful. You have to enlarge the census to 100% in order to read it and then you have these windows beneath it that are totally in the way and of no use while looking at census records.

    Please, put it back the original way of viewing.

  31. Cyndi

    I find that the Social Security Death Records do not provide a lot of information. The Social Security Death Records give name, date of death and SSN. Unless you know your deceased family member’s social security number, it’s hard to determine if an individual is an ancestor.

    It will become an increasingly difficult task to identify ancestors born and deceased after 1930.

    The older death certificates uploaded are extremely helpful, because they provide the deceased’s parents name, spouse (if applicable) and the name of the informant. They are great for providing clues.

    Can ancestry provide other state records that would give more information?

  32. Lane Cockrell

    I had become a little disgruntled with Ancestry (I can’t even even remember why) but decided to give it another look.

    Boy! was I ever pleasantly surprised.

    The new features make research seem almost like cheating! It is so simple and So Improved. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel, this is simpler.

    I have located census data on family that I swore did not exist!

    Thank You, I am glad I got over my miff and checked back.

  33. Fred Westcott

    I was disturbed when looking for my ancestors on the 1840 Michigan Census. I did find them, but only because I did not give up. They lived in Hillsdale, Co., in Somerset and Wheatland Townships but I could not find them there. Unfortunately mislabled the county and these townships are currently found labled as being in “Genesee Co.”. This is an error.

  34. Gary Inglish

    Ancestry’s efforts have indeed made many images MUCH more readable, and the improvement is much appreciated.

    However, I too am disappointed in some of the “enhanced images”. They have actually been improved to the point of not being able to use them. Please give us users assurance that as we report these UNREADABLE images that they will be investigated and replaced with either the old ones or more readable ones. Indexes are very helpful, but NOTHING substitutes for being able to look at the original image!!!

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