16 January 2010

As a Substitute, you get a C

Ancestry.com recently announced its 1950 Census Substitute collection. As they put it,
"The 1950 Census Substitute searches across more than 2,500 U.S. city directories from the mid 1940s through the 1950s. City directories were precursors to modern-day phonebooks and contain the names of each adult resident in the town along with their occupation and home and work addresses. Until the 1950 U.S. Federal Census becomes available, these records serve as a great resource for finding any adult family members who would have been alive during the 1950s."

While I give kudos to Ancestry for providing these documents, I would hardly call it a census substitute. A US census covers the entirety of the population of the country - this collection covers 2,500 cities and maybe their suburbs. This is a great resource for those ancestors lived in the areas that are covered, but the title of this collection may be very misleading for others.

Here are a few states for example:
  • Alabama: 7 Cities
  • Colorado: 7 Cities
  • Georgia: 11 Cities
  • Hawaii: 1 City
  • New Mexico: 5 Cities
  • South Carolina: 6 Cities
As you can see, there are many area that are not covered by this "census substitute." To be fair, there are other areas that have better coverage, but it's hit and miss. And to make matters a bit worse, from what I can tell, most of these city directories cover the same cities that have already been covered in the past. Few new cities appear in these directories, at least for the states that I research. I'd have loved to be able to access a larger geographical area.

So, while this collection is a substitute by dictionary definition, I look at it more like the type of substitutes that we have in schools today. The teacher's out and some random person comes in to watch the class for the day. They give out a reading assignment with a worksheet or play a video. While you might learn a few random facts that apply to the area of study, you have to wait for the teacher's return to really learn anything significant.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

Valerie -
I too was a bit disappointed with the "Census Substitute" as they called it. As far as I'm concerned nothing can really substitute for the information that a census record can provide. Sure, I can confirm where Grandpa was in 1951-52 with a city directory, but what information does that really provide me other than a filler of that small gap in time.


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