Not overly confident that my analysis would convince readers that I’d broken the code, so to speak, of the 1800 Federal Census, I contacted Ancestry.com. After waiting on hold a good while, a youngish, by the sound of her voice, native speaker of American English took my call. She was quite pleasant and seemed knowledgeable about Ancestry.com’s service—more knowledgeable than I am about my own account. Because I sign in with my email address and password, I didn’t know my account ID. Fortunately, it displays on the upper right corner of the screen. She reviewed my account then asked about my problem.
Since my problem was related to a specific record, all I had to do was to tell her what search criteria I had used and which record I had retrieved. Soon, she had Thomas Craighead’s 1800 Federal Census record on her screen and was able to verify that Ancestry.com had indeed determined that he had three slaves. When she looked at the original record, she immediately saw my problem and went about the analysis I described in the previous post. She arrived at the same conclusion about the numbers of slaves owned but could not find a key to use to decipher the log either. She contacted her technical support but to no avail. Ancestry.com does not know, or isn’t sharing, how exactly they transcribed handwritten and coded census reports into searchable digital form. The only way I can imagine it was done was by doing it manually one person at a time. Someone had to read the census pages, determine how names were spelled and how many people of each category lived at the address, then key it into a database. Errors were made as illustrated previously with Alenander Carothers. This was far from the first time I couldn’t retrieve a record via search that I knew should be available or, as in this case, had already seen along with the result for a different search.
The next step is to contact the National Archives. I’ll get back to you when, if ever, they tell me anything. Here is a link to a search: http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=7590&enc=1