Why You Shouldn’t Trust the Ancestry.com Indexer

When the 1940 U.S. census records were released, Ancestry.com paid some folks a lot of money to transcribe and index them, which would allow average Joe’s like to me to go in and find people with a simple keyword search. I appreciate that these indexers were faced with records for millions of people to index and handwriting that could be atrocious, but these indexers sucked at their job.

I introduce for the prosecution Exhibit A: the 1940 Census of Mercedes Rogan Clark and her husband John.

In 1940, one of the questions asked by the enumerator is where the person lived in 1935. The objective of the question was to capture additional changes to information from the 1930 census. And how did the indexer transcribe the answer to that question asked of Mercedes: Pen Argyl, Molesmer, Ohio.

I’m not a geography whiz, but I know a few things. Pen Argyl is in Pennsylvania, not Ohio, and Molesmer is a fictitious place. What is clear to me is that the line reads, ‘Youngstown, Mahoning, Ohio.’

1940 U.S. Federal Census, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Enumeration District 37-19, Sheet 16B. Clark, Charles; digital image, Ancestry.com (link), accessed 29 January 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication Roll T627 3537.

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