Thursday, January 17, 2013 Fixes 1850 Errors

Many of you have complained about the misindexed abbreviations of Now Ancestry has gone back and reworked the 1850 United States Federal Census to correct these errors, among others.

Many of us are familiar with seeing old style name abbreviations formed by leaving out intermediate letters and elevating the last letter of the name. Peter becomes Petr. James becomes Jams. Samuel becomes Saml. The propensity to abbreviate in this fashion seems to have applied to some place names. Florida was abbreviated Fla. Georgia was Ga. Pennsylvania was sometimes abbreviated Penna. Indiana was sometimes abbreviated Ia.

That style persists in many U.S. Postal Service two letter state abbreviations such as GA for Ga. and PA for Penna. Florida and Indiana are not among them. Fla. is now FL and Ia. is now IN.

Ia. is the wildcard that threw off Ancestry’s 1850 census. (See Geolover’s comment to “Monday Mailbox: Indexing Place Names.”) While back in the 19th century Ia meant Indiana to Indianans, to young people today IA is always Iowa.

Two years ago in my article “The World Has Had Enough of Silly Presentisms” I presented the case of John Houts, 2 months old, born in Ia, and enumerated in Shawnee, Fountain, Indiana. Both and had it wrong:

In 2011 both and had indexed John Houts wrong
This is how and used to look.

I’ve checked and now has this case correct. Their indexing rule of “key what you see” probably made it relatively easy for them to re-expand all Ia abbreviations in the state of Indiana.

I’ve checked and they still have it incorrect. Their policy of having indexers expand abbreviations has left them no way to correct such errors. They don’t know if the original record stated Ia or Iowa. They also give users no way to provide corrections. But I digress…

What about your favorite errors in Ancestry’s 1850 census? Have they fixed them?


  1. About time. Nearly all my ancestors ended up in Indiana.

  2. I've dealt with this numerous times. I think it's still wrong, i.e. IA expanded to Iowa, in some of the 1860 indexes on Ancestry. I've also banged my head on the desk regarding the too pale images when they "fixed" the 1860 censuses. I had some paper copies from before the "fix" that really represented what a disaster this fix was. Luckily this census can be found elsewhere. I also have found at least two counties that were indexed as the wrong county - made my own note in the source information which would now be time consuming to find. I never could find a decent way to report these to Ancestry. Clicking on their "problem with the image" didn't address the problem of the error on multiple images. Is there a way to report a major problem such as this one and if so, how?

  3. I ran across this very problem with the IGI. My ancestors were from Maine, and some people used to abbreviate it as "Mn." When this information was put on the IGI, they showed it as MN which, of course, is Minnesota. I don't think Minnesota has a Cumberland County, but there they are. I have not been back to check and/or make correctons, which I know I need to do. It just gets frustrating and annoying. I am amazed at the number of people who don't know state abbreviations. A few years ago I was in SLC looking at an exhibit of the LDS moving from NY to Missouri, which they had abbreviated as MI (Michigan). Missouri, of course, is MO.

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  5. Reporting errors to ancestry is easy. Just call their customer service line. You can actually talk to a real live person, in the US, 1-800-262-3787.

  6. Dear Ancestry Insider
    Now that Ancestry has fixed some of its 1850 census errors perhaps you can use your connections to have Ancestry fix a long-standing major error in its 1830 U.S. census. I have told Ancestry several times that they mis-indexed the entire Anderson County, South Carolina as Lancaster County. For example, enter the surname "Smith" in the 1830 U.S. census and living in "Anderson County, S.C." and Ancestry returns NULL results--like there is no one with the last name of Smith in all of Anderson County--actually according to Ancestry not a single person lived in Anderson County, S.C. in 1830. Imagine the number of wrong conclusions Ancestry is creating. On the National Archives microfilm Anderson and Lancaster counties are listed one after the other and Ancestry indexed everyone in both counties as Lancaster County residents. It would seem that Ancestry would wish to correct their error, and it would seem in the scheme of things to be a rather easy error to correct. Thank you for your good effort to nudge Ancestry to action to finally fix this egregious error. Jim


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