Tracy Reinhart is a long-time researcher who remembers way back when accessing the census meant scrolling through microfilm. Long ago she discovered her Braford ancestors’ family in Cannon, Kent, Michigan was one of those split across pages in a census. Online publishers like Ancestry and FamilySearch have to identify these split families and join them back together. That’s a fairly straightforward process unless you run into the situation Tracy ran into recently.
“Part of the 1870 census for Cannon, Kent Co. Mich. was not filmed in page order,” she told me. “As a result, when a family list carries over from one page to the next, you will find wrong family associations.” She found that for Cannon, Kent, Michigan:
- Image 28 on Ancestry.com is page 28 and ends with the Henry Wolaver family.
- Image 29 on Ancestry.com is page 30. Notice page 29 was skipped. It starts with Emma Braford. Since Emma has no family or dwelling numbers, we know that she belongs to the family on the previous page. Because the pages were filmed in the wrong order, Ancestry erroneously places her in the Henry Wolaver family. This page ends with the Harry (or Harvy) Haines family.
- Image 30 on Ancestry.com is page 31, which correctly continues with Mary Haines.
- Image 31 on Ancestry.com is page 29, the skipped page. It ends with the A. B. Brayford family.
I was interested to see how FamilySearch handled this situation. Researchers with access to both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org universally advise using Ancestry.com for census research and the 1870 census on FamilySearch.org is a good illustration of why.
- If you search for Cannon, Kent, Michigan, you get everyone living in the entire state of Michigan!
- If you don’t know where your person lived, but you somehow find them, FamilySearch doesn’t indicate where the person was!
The only advantage I see for searching FamilySearch’s 1870 census is that in a search you can specify another family member (in the “Other Person” field). That’s not possible on Ancestry.
But I digress…
As I compared FamilySearch.org with Ancestry.com, I noticed several interesting things.
- The image order on FamilySearch.org matches Ancestry.com.
- FamilySearch didn’t erroneously combine the Wolaver and Braford families. But they also didn’t correctly join the the two parts of the Brayford/Braford family.
- While Ancestry has 31 images for Cannon, Kent, Michigan, FamilySearch has 32. Ancestry has left out one of the pages from the microfilm! I’ve seen FamilySearch do the same thing. Neither company discloses the censure. The companies deem the image to have no genealogical value so they delete it. This is a very bad practice! There is no guarantee the decision maker understands advanced methodologies that may require a knowledge of the existence of that page, its contents, or the lack thereof. (A little looking showed this particular page is facing page 31 on folio 139. It has no names on it.)
- The digital folder number (004271429) and image number (00268) for Emma Bradford on FamilySearch.org match the image URL on Ancestry.com: https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4271429_00268. That’s kind of techie, but the takeaway is that Ancestry seems to be using FamilySearch images.
- FamilySearch misindexed the name Braford on page 30 as Bradford. Ancestry did not. Ancestry doesn’t seem to be using FamilySearch’s index.
I see several lessons we should draw from this:
- If you don’t find your ancestor on one website, check others.
- Search several images forward and backward from your ancestor.
- Your ancestor’s name can be spelled differently by the same person in the same record.
- Look at and try to understand all the information on a page.
- When the day comes that we no longer have access to microfilm, there will be errors that we can no longer detect or overcome.
- Everybody makes mistakes. Ancestry. FamilySearch. Microfilm. Everybody.
”Just a heads up for something that I never expected to find on Ancestry,” Tracy said.
Thank you, Tracy. Image credit: Ancestry.com.