Monday, December 28, 2009

Census "view maps" links no good,

A little "view map" option on this census summary page (index page?) caught Ol' Myrt's eye just before I clicked to view the 1930 Wenatchee, Chelan, Washington census enumeration featuring my mother as a toddler in the household of her parents, reported in Case Study: McDonnell Part V- 1930 US federal census.

But there is a BIG PROBLEM with the "view map" option provided by There IS a possible FIX, but let's read on...

Viewing Current Maps for historical entries?
Don't get me wrong -- it is always interesting to attempt to plot an ancestor's location on a current map provided you understand this isn't the historical context we're all seeking.

IF you are lucky, and IF maps at street view at Google Maps (or a future version of Maps), may show the EXACT HOME indicated in a US Federal Census (1790-1930) still exists for your ancestor in 2009. Even if there IS a home with the same address, you'd have to do a lot of research to determine it is the same one that has been there for decades since your ancestor took up residence.

Even if NOT, a current day map may still be a good idea to get the lay of the land for rivers, mountains and the like.

But a more likely scenario is that during the 80-130 years since your ancestor lived someplace, the town has changed a bit. Rivers do change their courses, and interstate highway systems cross-cross the nation where once only wagon ruts marked the lone prairies.

The BIG problem with the "view map" option provided by (with a link to maps) -- is that it unfortunately points to the county as if it were the town.

From the website indexing my mom's entry in the 1930 census index:

"SOURCE: 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2002. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls. Specifically: Wenatchee, Chelan, Washington; Roll 2485; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 46; Image: 207.0. "
viewed 12 December 2009.

So when computers provided a request to search in it's map collection, it sent the text :

Wenatcheee, Chelan, Washington

To even novice US genealogy researchers, this means:
Wenatchee (town)
Chelan (county)
Washington (state)

But sees this as:
Wenatchee (part of a street name)
Chelan (town)
Washington (state)
And this is what you get - Chelan, Washington not Wenatchee,Washington.

The problem became more evident, when I noticed the foot of Lake Chelan heading N/NW from the city. I knew the topography of the area, and that a river extended N/NE of Wenatchee. It was this inside knowledge that brought the problem to my attention. What about people who DON'T know the topography of this part of Washington State?

Merely resend the request manually at Google Maps (currently better than Bing Maps), omitting the county. In fact, look closely at the census enumeration, and pull the street and house number when provided.

Certainly coders can create a subroutine for each census to specify that only the city & state text string be sent in the request to a map site.

In the mean time, beware of the "view maps" option over at's census collection.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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