I have noticed several times, as I am sure you may have as well, that the images for the 1860 U.S. Federal Census on Ancestry and Fold3 sometimes have very poor quality. It is amazing to me that information can even be extracted from these images because they are so faded or just terrible. I came across this yesterday while doing some research on one of my ancestors.
One of my fourth great-grandfathers, Shadrack Chitwood, was living in Sugar Creek Township, Randolph County, Missouri, in 1860. This was actually just one year before he died. He and his wife, Jane, were living next door to their son, Francis M. Chitwood, and his family.
I first found the census on Ancestry because of a shaky leaf hint from other records I had found for him. However, when I looked at the image to see what other information was on the census, I couldn't read a single entry on the page, except for maybe their last name.
Sometimes when I find a poor quality image on one of the genealogy websites I will go to another website to see if they have a better image. FamilySearch has index entries for the 1860 census, but the website links over to Fold3 for the actual image. When I went to Fold3 for the image, the quality wasn't that much better.
One trick I have found is if images on both of these websites for the 1860 census (or other census years) are poor quality, look for them on Heritage Quest. Unfortunately this website is not like Ancestry or Fold3 where you can purchase a subscription. Heritage Quest is usually available through your local or county libraries. I don't know why, but Heritage Quest has so much better quality images for the 1860 census than the other websites. Why is that?
I find that the images may be more "grainy" and have other particles of dust or something on the images, but at least you can read the names on their records compared to the other two sites. I would be really interested in knowing why Ancestry and Fold3 have such poor quality images and what Heritage Quest did to make their images so much more readable. I would really like to see both Ancestry and Fold3 obtain new images of the 1860 census for those areas like Randolph County, Missouri, that are not legible. I know that is a lot of work and would cost the companies money, but I find it would be a valuable effort for their customers.
A.C. Ivory is a professional genealogist, blogger, product manager, ux designer, computer geek, and traveler.