Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Mailbox: How Fast Was the 1860 Census Indexed

Howland Davis sent a question in response to my article, “FamilySearch Indexing Not Keeping Up.”

Dear Ancestry Insider,

Interesting article, thank you.  I have a question about the comparison of the indexing the 1860 and the 1940 censuses.  I am fairly sure that the 1940 index was completed 1650 days after its release in 2012.  Was the 1860 census indexed 17 years after its release in 1932(?) or did the work start some years after that?

Just curious, not important.

Howland Davis

Dear Howland,

Ooooh. Something shiny.

It took Ancestry.com four months and one day to finish its 1940 index. (See my article of 6 August 2012, “Census Indexing Update: And It’s Over.”) FamilySearch published the 50 states a while later, but I think it took them a considerable amount of time to finish the territories.

I believe the first large-scale effort to index the U.S. censuses was made by Ronald Vern Jackson and Accelerated Indexing Systems (AIS) in the late 1970s through the early 1990s. I believe he indexed heads-of-households only, and just the names, so the amount of work was more manageable. These were true indexes, not the census databases we use today. Where did he get his keyers? Does anyone know? He published the indexes as bound books of computer printouts.

A page from the 1976 AIS index to the Louisianna 1820 census
Ronald Vern Jackson, et. al, eds., Louisiana 1820 Census Index (Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1976), 1.

According to Thomas Jay Kemp’s The American Census Handbook (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 2001), here are the publication years for a sampling of states:

Census Publication year
1790 New York: 1990
Ohio: 1984
1800 Ohio: 1986
Vermont: 1976
1810 Virginia: 1978
1820 Iowa: 1977
Indiana: 1976
1830 Indiana: 1976
1840 Iowa: 1979
1850 Iowa: 1976
1860 Iowa: 1987
North Dakota: 1980
Virginia: 1988
Washington: 1979
1870 Iowa: 1990

Notice all were done after the widespread availability of computers.

In 1984 AIS published on microfiche what it had completed. Ancestry.com published AIS indexes online in 1999.

Some limited scope indexes were published earlier. For example, in 1964 the Ohio Library Foundation published an index of the 1830 Ohio census. This, too, was a computer printout. Volunteer family historians extracted the names of heads of households onto index cards. The cards were keyed onto punch cards, which were then sorted by an IBM mainframe computer.

A page from the Ohio Library Foundation's 1964 index of the 1830 Ohio census
Ohio Library Foundation, ed., 1830 Federal Population Census Index, vol. 1 (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio Library Foundation, 1964), 1.

So the answer to your question is, that indexing the 1860 census took about a decade and was finished around 1990.

Signed,
---tai

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