Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

UVa Historical Census Browser to Shut Down

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 6, 2016

Last week I stopped by the Historical Census Browser at the University of Virginia Library, to find this notice posted there:

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Due to a recent intrusion by hackers, further security concerns, and data that is both outdated and contains transcription errors, our Historical Census Browser site is being closed. It will remain up in its current state (search working, maps not) through the end of 2016, but will likely be turned off completely after that date. Our librarians recommend that you use Social Explorer, a site that has current and correct data (along with additional data) and that allows mapping of search results.

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This is a pretty big deal to folks who use census data. I’ve used this resource numerous times over the last few years, and it’s proved to be very valuable not just for data on the population, but also on manufacturing, the economy, religious institutions, and so on. The library is directing users to Social Explorer, which seems to be a versatile tool, but data from before 2000 is locked behind a paywall that requires either a personal membership (around $500 annually), or access through a subscribing institution.

The loss of this tool at UVa sucks, bad. Does anyone know of another source of county-level census data, preferably in electronic format, for the 19th century?

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10 Responses

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  1. freedmenspatrol said, on September 6, 2016 at 4:35 pm

    I have good news and bad news. The data is online in an electronic format, but it’s PDFs (http://www.census.gov/prod/www/decennial.html). They are massive and not named in a particularly useful way (alphanumeric: the Alabama tabulation for 1860 begin in 1860a-04) but the individual state and territory entries go down to the county level, have profession breakdowns (where the census asked), crop yields, and all the rest. It’s clearly scanned from original books, complete with skewed pages, but readable. So nothing you can just run queries on.

    • Andy Hall said, on September 6, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      Thanks. Better than naught. Sure was nice being able to copy/paste into Excel.

  2. Vicki Betts said, on September 6, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    As a resident of Texas, and a probable public library card holder, have you taken a look at Heritage Quest? A year or two back they added the Agricultural and Industrial Census Schedules, the Slave Census, the 1890 Veterans Schedule, and Mortality Schedule. It’s certainly not as “crunchable” as the Census Browser was, but it’s another approach. Texas public libraries and academic libraries get it with their TexShare subscription from the State Library. You will still need to log in, but it should be free.

    Vicki Betts

    • Andy Hall said, on September 7, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Thanks very much. I have access to Ancestry and Fold3, among others, that are by subscription but get me down into the weeds for researching individuals. Irreplaceable resources at that level. The census data browser was good for crunching larger data sets, breaking out trends and attributes by geography. I’m gonna miss that.

  3. Meg Groeling said, on September 6, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    I hate those sites that were available to us as students but as soon as we sever ties to a college or university (graduate!!) they are no longer available. I wish there was a way of creating an alumni subscription base or some such. We all get impacted by these things. Good luck, and keep the info flowing.

    • Vicki Betts said, on September 7, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Generally speaking, most university libraries offer full access if you come in the door and fill out minimal paperwork. I’ve had to drive to Texas A&M to use some of their databases, and they were very helpful–the main problem being parking. As far as off-site access goes, I’m afraid it all gets down to money. We’re charged a certain rate by the database vendors based on our FTE (Full Time Equivalent) number of students. As relatively small as our university is, we’ve got, I’m sure, 100,000+ alumni/former students. I’m not sure how we would put a price on added users that would, I assume, be added to their Alumni Association annual dues. As I approach retirement I’m trying to take full advantage of my home access, knowing that it will be cut off at that point regardless of the forty years I will have put in working at this library at that point. It’s a true bummer.

  4. James F. Epperson said, on September 7, 2016 at 6:58 am

    My first thought is that this is a weak excuse for shutting down such a valuable tool. If the site has been hacked, enable better security; if there are data transcription errors, fix them. I wonder what’s really going on?

  5. bharshaw said, on September 7, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Sent an email to the OAH linking to this post.

  6. Dave Goldberg said, on September 9, 2016 at 5:47 pm

    Hi Andy. You have a great site, but this is the first time that I’ve posted a comment. I was also disappointed to hear about the UVA site. The University of Minnesota hosts IPUMS, which they say is dedicated to collecting and distributing census data.

    The site has several Civil War statistics, and has the ability for users to devise their own queries.

    Registration is free, but they have yet to validate my request. Perhaps you’ll have better luck. Might be worth checking out.

    https://usa.ipums.org/usa/index.shtml


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