Ancestry.com is adding historic U.S. Census records to boost its archive of searchable names to 5 billion, making it what the company calls the most comprehensive genealogical database ever compiled.
The Provo company was set to announce Thursday that it copied complete U.S. Census records from 1790 to 1930 — a Herculean effort that took a team of experts and workers a combined 6.6 million hours of labor.
The U.S. government waits 72 years before releasing original census documents containing such personal information as an individual's occupation — actor Tom Hanks' grandfather, Clarence Frager, made a living as a rodent exterminator, a 1930 census record reveals.
Hours of legwork
Workers for Ancestry.com spent so much time compiling these records because they had to decipher the handwriting on millions of census forms. They had to index and catalog every name, and scan images of the census documents, which will be shown on the Web site starting Thursday.
In all, workers made 22 billion keystrokes to organize all the information, the company said.
Ancestry.com, which claims more than 725,000 paid subscribers, says it now has the only online repository of historic U.S. Census records.
To do it, the company had to make a "vast investment in technology, people, research and tools," Tim Sullivan, Ancestry.com's chief executive, said in a statement.
"We are just beginning to scratch the surface in terms of the amount of content we can offer and the millions of people all over the globe we can connect," he said.
The company planned a media tour of its operations Thursday, where it keeps dusty paper records and a datacenter with 3,000 computer servers.
The latest project added 540 million names and 600 terabytes of data to the company's genealogical database. A terabyte equals a thousand billion bytes.
It includes 13 million original census images scanned and transcribed from 15,000 rolls of microfilm.
More than just population numbers
The information details more than just names or population numbers. It includes people's moves across the country, their race, marital status, assets, residence, schooling and other personal information.
It was a big accomplishment to put 140 years of full census documents into a single computer database, said Ruth Carr, department chief of local history and genealogy at New York Public Library.
Until now, "researchers had to work with thousands of reels of microfilm in order to find a specific person or family they wanted to learn about," Carr said. "With the digitization of the census, it is now possible for someone to type a name in the search box, and within seconds view the image of the actual census page."
The historical records revealed some quirks. For instance, Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary, reported growing only seven years older between the 1850 and the 1860 census.
In 1930, Harry Truman was living at his mother-in-law's house, just 12 years before he became president.
Ancestry.com is part of a network of Web sites owned by MyFamily.com Inc. It charges annual fees of $155.40 for U.S. records and $347.40 for world records. Monthly fees start at $29.95.