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Census Microfilm Records: Virginia, 1850
(CD 309)

Reviewed by Marthe Arends

I received a new CD the other day — I glanced at it quickly and saw the title "Census Microfilm Records: Virginia, 1850." Curious, I accessed the CD and was totally amazed, thrilled, and flabbergasted to find that it was not a census index — it was the entire 1850 census for Virginia! Actual images of the microfilm, not someone's transcribed index! has really got a great idea on their hands with the Census Microfilm Records — no longer will you have to go to the FHC or National Archives to view census microfilms — now you can do it in the comfort of your own home! How many times have you copied information from a census, only to find you wish you had checked surrounding homes, neighborhoods, or counties? With a census microfilm at your fingertips, you can access the information as many times as you like!

Researchers have long recognized the value of census records — they are one of the basic resources almost every researcher uses. Transcribed census indexes are good, but they contain an inherent error rate...the LDS Family History Department has estimated that the error rate for the census index is about 19%. notes that while they've corrected "tens of thousands of errors...some of these errors still exist." Even with that warning, with images of the original microfilm records, it'll be easy to verify or dispute information listed on the index (the information in the name index was compiled by AISI). One way to overcome common surname errors (misspellings, transposed letters, etc.) is to search for your ancestors using Soundex — available by checking an option in the FamilyFinder preferences.

January 28, 1998

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I have personal experience with how frustrating it is to have individuals who were not included in a census index. I know they existed (they were on prior and following censuses) but were missing from some indexes. Having the entire census at my fingertips allowed me to work through the county in my own time and locate the individual — and several related family members! The ability to search the "neighborhood" is another boon — no longer is a trip to the FHC required to check "just one more family."

CD 209 contains information on about 252,000 heads of household and their families. It contains a searchable index to the heads of household, but not an index to every individual mentioned within the images. Information you'll find varies with each entry; the 1850 census includes fields for dwelling and family number, name of every person who was living at that home on 1 June, 1850, age, sex, color, occupation, value of real estate, place of birth (state, territory, or country), and whether the individual was married or attended school within the year.

I found a few pages of the census microfilm very difficult to read. A disclaimer in the introduction mentions that some of the scans are not as good as others due to faint or illegible spots in the original microfilms. I found that with the use of a good graphics program, I could enhance a page image to the point where I could read the difficult parts. I also came across several cases where the individual I was searching for was not on the page listed in the index...instead he was on the following page. A note in the introduction warns users to check the prior and next pages if you can't find an individual on the page listed.

Using the CD is easy — you pop a name in the Search Expert, or peruse the index. Once you find a name which looks interesting, you can click on the More About button which displays information such as the county and location, microfilm series, roll, and page numbers. Once you find the your ancestor on a census page, you access the usual tools — zoom in and out, flip to the previous and next pages, view the image full screen, print a page, or copy the image to the clipboard.

Although there is no manual other than the standard 17-page technical insert, there is quite a bit of information in the introduction — information on the benefits and limitations of the data on CD-ROM (including details on the sorts of errors which can be found), tips for searching, printing and copying images, and a very informative section on Understanding Census Information. Explanations on enumerators, spelling changes, how to look for name variations due to errors, voluntary and involuntary information, and name changes are a few of the subjects mentioned. An important (but brief) section mentions evaluating the information you find before assuming it's correct. One item I thought should have been included in the introduction was a reference on how to cite information found within this resource.

The Census Microfilm Records: Virginia, 1850 offers both new and experienced researchers a fantastic resource. While isn't the first company to put images of census microfilm at your fingertips, I believe they are the first to make available an entire state, including index, in one set. The quality of the scans, tremendous benefit to researchers, ease of use of viewing software, and the reasonable price makes this CD my hot pick for 1998!

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Census Microfilm Records: Virginia, 1850
(CD 309)

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About the Author

Marthe Arends has been involved in genealogy for 18 years. She has lectured on computers and genealogy to many groups, has been the SysOp of a Fidonet genealogy BBS, has written articles for a variety of genealogy publications, and currently writes fiction. Marthe has also written Genealogy Software Guide and Genealogy on CD-ROM, both published by the Genealogical Publishing Company.
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