Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ancestry.com Fixing Errors in Other Databases

In response to my article “Ancestry.com Fixes 1850 Errors,” reader Jim asked if Ancestry might be nudged to fix errors in the 1830 census also. I asked Ancestry.com spokesperson, Matthew Deighton, if other fixes were in the works.

Deighton said that Ancestry regularly reworks “existing collections to increase the breadth of the collection, fix errors in keying, and update the usability and ease of search.” Ancestry reworked 150 databases in 2012, most of which were online for eight years or more. “We need to make a nice balance between digitizing and indexing collections never seen before and improving the current collections,” he said.

Deighton provided a list of some collection improvements, which I quote:

  • 1891 England Census – Update with some pages and over 30,000 records that had been missed. Fixed some spelling errors in place names that were causing parishes to be in the wrong counties. Also fixed similar spelling issues in birthplaces.
  • 1861 England Census – Updated with some pages and several hundred records that had been missed, corrected spelling of some parishes, for instance East Mousley and West Mousley in Surrey to East Molesey and West Moulsey respectively.
  • California, Death Index, 1940-1997 – added over 1.5 million records. Removed SS numbers to be in compliance with most recent privacy policies
  • 1920 US Census – fixed on location where pages were out of order on film, but we ordered them to be more readable online and fix some issues with family grouping that was a result of the out of order family members. Fixed some other  back end issues with the relationship field to improve family groupings. This collection will be reviewed again in 2013 to see if any major updates need to be made.
  • 1900 US Census – addressed complaints reported by members, fixing about 2 dozen instances of spelling issues with place names or towns assigned to the wrong county, correcting place information for thousands of records.  Adjusted about 3 places where the records were not linking to the image correctly and opened up additional fields like gender, marital status, years married, etc. for user contributed corrections to be made. No new records were added. This collection will be reviewed again in 2013 to see what else might be done.
  • 1830 US Census – In Mar 2012 fixed about 6 locations where images and records on those images were assigned to the wrong town or county. One outstanding error that was missed is scheduled to be fixed Jan 24, 2013. [I received this message prior to the 24th. --AI] Fixed some misspellings in the names that were resulting in profane words. [Doesn’t that make you curious?]
  • 1800 US Census – added about 1,500 records that were from images that had been missed. Fixed 6 instances where records were listed under the incorrect location or county correction thousands of records. Included instances where 3 different townships were on an image but all records had been attributed to a single location.

I saw when I was at Ancestry that errors were queued up for fixing. However, there are a number of reasons why your individual errors don’t appear to get fixed. It isn’t feasible to make such corrections immediately. Some collections are lightly used and don’t warrant expensive rework. Some errors are not escalated by customer service reps who may not understand records enough to confidently declare to superiors that errors exist.

Ancestry is extending its new, cool census interface to new censuses, so they’ve had to touch these censuses anyways. That’s aligned the planets for repair of known problems. Hopefully, your errors in the above censuses got fixed. If you have errors in other censuses, now is the time to get them on the list.

What about it? Did your favorite errors get fixed?


  1. Question you can also ask Ancestry...

    If they can provide you with such a list of fixed databases and what was fixed in them, then why can't they provide that same information to their members at the time they actually fix them?

    All we see is the name of the database and "UpDated" - and that isn't helpful at all.

    This has been asked over and over by members but we have yet to get a straight answer- maybe you could get one from Matthew.

    Andy Hatchett

    1. I agree completely. Imagine if new car dealers did the same thing:

      "You put information out that your product has been recently updated. What exactly has been updated?"

      "We do not give out that information."

      What? I need to know if I should spent my time and effort re-examining your product!"

      I have been instructed to ignore requests for that information. But make sure your payments are on time. Or else."

  2. Okay, you ask whether our errors in other years of the Federal Census have been addressed. How do we get the errors we've uncovered onto their list?


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