Ancestry.com announced the addition of historic U.S. Census records to boost its archive of searchable names to 5 billion, making it what the company calls the most comprehensive genealogical database ever compiled. The Provo, Utah-based company announced on Thursday that it has now indexed the complete U.S. Census records from 1790 to 1930 and placed all the indexes online, along with images of the original records. It has been a Herculean effort that took a team of experts and workers a combined 6.6 million hours to accomplish.
According to the announcement, workers spent so much time compiling these records because they had to decipher the handwriting on millions of census forms. They had to index and catalog every name and scan images of the census documents. In all, workers made 22 billion keystrokes to organize all the information, the company said.
The U.S. government waits 72 years before releasing original census documents containing such personal information as an individual's occupation. One example is actor Tom Hanks' grandfather, Clarence Frager. Mr. Frager may have had a sense of humor when he reported his occupation in the 1930 census as "rodent exterminator." On his daughter's birth certificate, Mr. Frager reportedly listed his occupation as "squirrel inspector."
Now we know where Tom Hanks inherited his droll sense of humor!
On Thursday Ancestry.com conducted a media tour of its operations, where it keeps a data center with 3,000 computer servers. The latest project added 540 million names and 600 terabytes of data to the company's genealogical database. (A terabyte equals a thousand billion bytes.) It includes 13 million original census images, scanned and transcribed from 15,000 rolls of microfilm.
The information reflects more than just names or population numbers. It shows people's moves across the country and includes their race, marital status, assets, residence, schooling and other personal information.
It was a big accomplishment to put 140 years of full census documents into a single computer database, said Ruth Carr, department chief of local history and genealogy at New York Public Library.
Until now, "researchers had to work with thousands of reels of microfilm in order to find a specific person or family they wanted to learn about," Carr said. "With the digitization of the census, it is now possible for someone to type a name in the search box, and within seconds view the image of the actual census page."
The historical records revealed some quirks. For instance, Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary, reported growing only seven years older between the 1850 and the 1860 census.
In 1930, Harry Truman was living at his mother-in-law's house just 12 years before he became vice-president.
Ancestry.com is part of a network of Web sites owned by MyFamily.com Inc. It charges annual fees of $155.40 for U.S. records and $347.40 for world records. Monthly fees start at $29.95.
For more information, go to http://www.ancestry.com.