Thursday, April 19, 2012

#1940Census Image Viewer Comparison

FamilySearch image viewerI’m going to do some comparisons about the 1940 Census experience on the different websites. First up, the image viewers and load time. I’ll do image quality in a future article.

I used the Chrome browser and performed the test on Sunday afternoon in the 4pm MST hour. I used a stopwatch app on my rather old smart phone. I loaded images from Utah ED 3-15. had the fastest image load time, a bit over 3 seconds. Remember, your mileage may vary. The significance here is the comparison among the websites.

As I’ve reported before, has switched to the Flash browser plugin (which I dislike). They no longer offer scroll bars, so getting from one corner to another can be painful. Zooming is smooth and easy using the mouse wheel or an onscreen control. Images can be downloaded or linked to people in your Ancestry Member Trees.

Ancestry chanced to the Flash viewer to provide some advanced features from indexed records. I’ll review those in the future. They’ve kept the old HTML viewer around, probably for mobile users. To switch back to the old HTML viewer select Actions > Options > Switch to Non-Interactive Viewer.

My smart phone isn’t smart enough to test image viewing on a tablet or phone. If you want to test it for me, try this URL:

The image viewer for ( is fast, taking about four seconds to load each image. The browser Back button doesn’t work. There is no zoom. The viewer is the only one of the four reviewed here that has scroll bars. Scroll bars allow you to quickly move to a desired area of the image. There is no way to directly jump to an image other than the previous or next images.

Images can be downloaded in standard or fine resolution. You can download a single image or an entire enumeration district. Before downloading, you have to do one of those obnoxious Captcha security checks. I suppose that is to prevent parties from “stealing” all these public domain images from the government.

To test the viewer on a mobile platform, use this URL:


Image viewing is slowest on FamilySearch, taking about 34 seconds an image. FamilySearch has no scroll bars, so when zoomed in, moving from one end of the image to the other takes a little work. Speaking of zooming in, FamilySearch seems to artificially constrain how far you can zoom, stopping short of the full 100% supported by other viewers.

You can jump to any image in an enumeration district by entering the image number and you can use the browser back button to return back through viewed images.

To test the FamilySearch viewer on a mobile device, click this link:


Image viewing on took about 17 seconds for an image. However, if I go on to other images and then come back, the image is displayed almost immediately. Don’t try to use the browser’s back button to go back, however. It doesn’t work. Use the drop-down list of image numbers to quickly click to any desired image.

MyHeritage’s image viewer does not have scroll bars. That can be inconvenient because, unlike the artificial limitation of zooming on, MyHeritage allows zooming to 100% and beyond.

Test this URL on a mobile device:

Screen Capture

Screen captures with programs like Snag-It are popular among genealogists. Screen capture from these image viewers is problematic. I tested the image viewers with Chrome’s screen capture and found most capture options did not work and any of the websites.

  Capture page region Capture visible content Capture whole page Capture screen region No No No Yes No Yes No Yes No No No Yes No No No Yes

Next time I will compare image quality of these vendors’ 1940 Census images.


  1. Thank you for this. I had given up on trying to browse the census images on my iPad 3G. On the subject of load times, not using a stopwatch, but just counting, the load times were all much longer than your results, with Family Search the longest. But the load times don't mean much if when you have the image you can't do anything with it.
    Ancestry's viewer is unusable on the iPad unless all you want is to save the image. Archive and Family Search let you pinch to zoom and drag to move the zoomed image but the resolution is very poor when zoomed. They to let you tap and hold to save the image.
    The one I hadn't tried was MyHeritage which is the only one of the four that seems designed for the iPad platform. An uncluttered, plain interface, piinch to zoom and drag to move the image, but high-res, even zoomed. Previous and next arrows and and a drop-down page number list for direct access to any page in the ED. In order to save the page you have to press a download icon which opens the image in a new, static page which you tap-and-hold to save. I was rooting for one of the other sites, but this is a no-brainer. MyHeritage is the only one usable on the iPad.

  2. I believe that you can't link the image to people in your Ancestry Member Trees until Ancestry has indexed the particular image.

    1. Dear Lora,

      You can link the image to a person via a Web Link.

      -- The Insider