Racism or Incompetence?

I had read complaints about Ancestry.com’s new format for pre-1850 U.S. census listings. The complaints need to be much, much louder. After struggling I can only conclude that the compilers are either deliberately racist or are lacking in the ability to analyze data. (After 1850, the census was supposed to name each individual and the search can be made in categories of “black,” “colored,” “mulatto,” etc., except for 1860 where Ancestry doesn’t include racial designation.)

Before 1850 the census only listed heads of household and the number of residents by age range. For example in 1840, the categories included white males under 5, 5 under 10, 10 under 15, 15 under 20, and then in 10-year increments to 100 and upwards. A separate set of columns had the same listings for white females. The options for free people of color and for slaves included slots for ages under 10, 10 under 24, 24 under 35, 36 under 55, 56 under 100 and 100 and upwards.

Until recently one could search the census records posted on Ancestry by name, state, county and township. Someone decided to add options so that now one can insert numbers in six categories: free white persons under 20, 20 “thru” [sic] 49, “number of total free white persons” [shouldn’t it be total number?]; number of total free colored persons; number of total slaves; and number of total all persons.

What’s wrong with this scenario? Well, if one is looking for a family of color but doesn’t know how many are in the household in 1840, one goes through extreme aggravation. In order to find households with free people of color one has to look for everyone with the last name and examine the last two columns to find a discrepancy between “free white persons” and “number of total persons.” If there’s a family living by themselves, then the search is fairly easy because the rest of the columns are blank. But if individuals or a family are living with white people, then the examination requires comparing total white people and total people in each instance. Given a common last name (I was searching for Pierce, first name unknown and spelled Peerce, Pearce, Peirce, and so forth), needle in haystack doesn’t begin to describe the search if one isn’t exactly sure where the family lived.

Putting “black” or “colored” into the keyword search won’t produce any results. I’m sure Ancestry justified its decision by including the largest categories, but has really made some of my research difficult. With one exception, which I would have found with the old search, I’ve been unable to find any of the people I’m fairly sure should be in the area.

To add to the insult. I’ve been trying to use the reference Library CD that came with my family tree program. It launches maybe 5 percent of the time and then locks up my computer when it tries to link to the web. I’ve yet to be able to see a single item in it.

If the cite didn’t have a monopoly on family research I’d quit.

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