US Census Data...why so hard to find for free?

OK, I’m not sure if there is a factual answer to this, but I feel there may be.

The US Census Data for the 1790-1930 censuses is public data which should be available to anyone who visits a NARA location or a library which has access (I don’t seem to have easy access near me). Or, you can pay money to or the like to search the census records. But what’s amazing to me is it seems, outside of the 1880 Census, no one has put all this information vital to genealogy researchers online for free. I was shocked that even the diligent Mormons only have a single online searchable census.

Is there some reason why the census data isn’t all online, or why there aren’t more free/public access means for this data? Anyone know?

The problem with putting census data online is that it isn’t very helpful without indexing. The census records most people see online are images taken from microfilm, many of which date from 1930’s WPA projects. You can’t search them directly. So what you’re really paying and other services for is the right to use the online databases they have built over many years, which provide you with filtered search capability.

Sure…but what I’m confused about is given the laborious and detailed work that the Mormons and other folks have done, why is so little data available? What gave its edge to digitize everything and index it? is just the most successful of several companies offering online indices for genealogical research. It gained “critical mass” by providing financial support for, a free online resource for genealogical research and data storage.

The LDS has its own religous reasons for genealogical research (ie baptising one’s ancestors) and is not directly concerned with developing and publishing extensive family trees.

Many folks do exchange their results online thru GED files (via email/ftp), but are reluctant to post them directly on forums, for two reasons. First, because genealogies are always a work in progress, never completed; and second, because they don’t want a commercial company to benefit from their research.

If you want aggregate data from any of the U.S. Census, 1790–1960, see the Historical Census Browser from the University of Virginia Library.

Not exactly. The WPA created Soundex indexes of the U.S. Census, 1880-1930, in the the period 1935-1943. Article: The WPA Census Soundexing Projects.

Microfilming of the census schedules and the Soundex indexes was done done by the National Archives in the late 1940s.

Thanks for the correction and the article link, Walloon!

At any rate, most people don’t realize their local public library may already be paying for them to access resources like Ancestry or HeritageQuest, so in effect they pay double. Don’t be those people.

Transcription is slow, tedious and difficult work. Ergo, a transcription of a census cost someone a lot of money.

(I have looked thru reels of census microfilm. The quality, especially around the edges is horrible. So much data has been lost.)

Quality was very dependent on the operator and the quality of the document being filmed. I’ve been looking at a lot of images lately and some of them are as crisp and clear as the day they were written. Others are excellent copies of shitty papers that have massive amounts of scribbling on them. Others are just poor copies.

For the most part, I’m amazed at the overall good quality and the overall good indexing.

A lot of historic Census data is online’ It just has’t been put into the form of a searchable database.